Beginning on February 21, 2017, violent clashes between student groups broke out on and off the campus of Ramjas College (RC) of the University of Delhi, in connection with invitations, extended to two controversial student activists, to attend a seminar on campus.
The Literary Society of Ramjas College organized “Cultures of Protest,” a two-day seminar to be held on February 20 and 21, 2017, that would “…explore representations of dissent in literary productions and their percolation into mainstream attention.” Among the guests invited to the seminar were prominent student-activists Shehla Rashid and Umar Khalid — the latter of whom was arrested in February 2016 and later charged with sedition for allegedly raising anti-India slogans at a campus protest (see report). In advance of the seminar, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (All Indian Students Council, or “ABVP”), a student organization with nationalist political affiliations, which had previously criticized Khalid for being anti-nationalist, called for Ms. Rashid and Mr. Khalid to be excluded from the seminar.
On February 21, the day Mr. Khalid was scheduled to speak, ABVP members gathered outside the event in protest before his arrival. Reports indicate that the protesting students played loud music in an effort to disrupt the talk, broke window panes in the conference room, and threw stones at other students. RC Principal Rajendra Prasad arrived on the scene as the protest grew and soon thereafter announced that Mr. Khalid’s talk would be cancelled due to security concerns.
The next day, students led by the All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Student’s Federation of India congregated at RC and marched to a local police station to protest against and register a complaint about ABVP’s actions the previous day. AISA students participating in the march have alleged that they were attacked by ABVP members as they made their way to the police station. After arriving at the station, violent clashes reportedly broke out between AISA and ABVP students. AISA students have alleged that ABVP students initiated the confrontations and that police officers did not make sufficient efforts to end the violence. Dozens of students and faculty members were reportedly injured during the protest.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence and the destruction of university property during on- and off-campus protests. Students have the right to freedom of expression and association; however, those rights must be exercised in a manner consistent with university values, including non-violence and social responsibility. Campus violence and the destruction of property creates unnecessary risk of injury to members of the higher education community, chills academic freedom, and undermines university autonomy.