On June 6, 2018, Police reportedly arrested Shoma Sen, an English Professor at Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University (RTMNU), along with four activists, in apparent retaliation for their activism.
Police from several jurisdictions reportedly coordinated a joint operation to arrest Professor Sen and four other activists, including Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson. The five have for years engaged in public advocacy on behalf of various marginalized populations in India. Professor Sen is affiliated to several well known feminist organizations in India and is a member of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights.
Authorities have charged Professor Sen and the activists under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, for “spreading controversial pamphlets” and “delivering hate speeches,” and under the country’s anti-terrorism law, for having alleged links to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). The charges are apparently based on their alleged participation at the Bhima Koregoan memorial event on January 1, 2018, which commemorated a battle that occurred in 1818 between Dalit soldiers of the British army and the upper-caste Peshwas. Sources indicate that members of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party protested the event and clashed violently with participants, resulting in at least one person killed.
Professor Sen’s daughter maintains that her mother had no connection with the Bhima Koregaon event beyond expressing solidarity with the movement.
On June 8, RTMNU officials reportedly suspended Professor Sen from her position as head of the English department due to her arrest and ongoing prosecution.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest, prosecution, and suspension in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with such rights, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, arrests, prosecutions, and suspensions aimed at limiting such activities undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.