SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: May 30, 2017

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Indian Institute of Technology-Madras

Region & Country:Southern Asia | India

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 30, 2017, a group of students reportedly attacked R. Sooraj, a PhD candidate at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IITM), in apparent retaliation for co-organizing a “Beef Fest” to protest legislation related to the sale of cattle.
On May 26, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests adopted legislation that would ban the sale of cattle for the purpose of slaughter through commercial meat markets. In response, Mr. Sooraj and fellow IITM students organized a May 28 Beef Fest protest, which involved the public consumption of beef curry on campus. The protest was reportedly peaceful and attended by at least 50 students. 
On May 30, while Mr. Sooraj and a friend ate lunch in an IITM dining hall, a student approached him and asked questions about the protest, including whether he ate beef. The student reportedly then began beating Mr. Sooraj on the back of the head. At least six more students quickly joined him in attacking Mr. Sooraj. Soon after, Mr. Sooraj’s friend was able to remove him from the attackers and brought him to a hospital to treat severe eye injuries sustained during the attack. At least two other students have reportedly been threatened for participating in the Beef Fest. As of this report, a police investigation is underway.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about a violent attack on a student in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association — conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such attacks threaten academic freedom and democratic society generally. State and university authorities have a responsibility to prevent violence on campus, and to investigate and hold accountable perpetrators of such attacks.