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: February 19, 2018

Attack Types: Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):Ashoka University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | India

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 19, 2018, India’s Ministry of External Affairs issued a letter ordering visa restrictions on scholars of Pakistani origin seeking to attend an Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Conference scheduled for July 5-8, 2018, to be hosted by Ashoka University in New Delhi.

The Ministry of External Affairs’ February 19 letter, a response to the organizers’ November 29, 2017 request for “Political Clearance” for the event, read in relevant part: “2. The Ministry has no objection from [sic] political angle for the proposed event with foreign participants (as per the list attached) (except participants from Pakistan). . . 4. Kindly note that the Ministry does not recommend participation from Pakistan in the proposed event.” (emphasis in original). Attached to the letter was a list of 57 countries of origin of the proposed participants; Pakistan was struck from the list.

Although Pakistani scholars invited to participate in the conference had reportedly been notified in March of the Ministry’s decision, and had their registration fees refunded, conference organizers reportedly did not publicly address the ban until June 8, 2018, after an Indian publication ran a story about it. In a joint statement, the AAS and Ashoka University said, “The fact that the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India has decided to deny visas to Pakistani scholars (including scholars of Pakistani origin who are citizens of other countries) to attend the AAS-in-Asia conference in Delhi is not in tune with the open exchange of ideas and knowledge that is the very purpose of the conference” . . . “However, neither the Association for Asian Studies nor Ashoka University has the authority to tell the Government of India, a sovereign nation, to whom it may and may not grant visas, and nor have we been able to influence the Government of India to reverse its decision in this case.”

Scholars at Risk is concerned about restrictions on academic travel based on the national origin of the scholars, and/or anticipated academic content or conduct. State and university authorities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom and not to interfere with the non-violent exchange of ideas and other expressive activity by scholars, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly.