On January 22, 2018, police officers reportedly used force against a group of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students as they engaged in a peaceful protest, before briefly detaining a number of them.
The students, members of the JNU Students Union (JNUSU), had gathered in New Delhi to protest the recently reported rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl, and to call for government action in response. Although the students were protesting peacefully, the police allegedly dispersed them using a technique known as a lathi charge, in which a large group of officers runs into a crowd, bearing batons, to disrupt them. After doing so, the police reportedly took a number of the students into custody, briefly detaining them in a nearby police station. Among the detained students was the JNUSU vice president, Simone Zoya Khan, who alleged that she had been dragged alone into a room inside the police station, punched in the face and beaten. A police spokesperson denied the students’ claims, and alleged that in protesting, the students had acted in a disruptive and unruly manner (although the spokesperson did not allege that the students had used violence).
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force against, and arrest of, peaceful student protesters. While authorities have a legitimate interest in maintaining order, they must do so in ways that are proportional to the situation, minimize the risk of physical injury, and otherwise respect academic freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and other applicable human rights. State and university authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with such rights, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibility. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions have a chilling effect on academic freedom and university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.