On June 19, 2018, police reportedly arrested Valarmathi Madhaiyan, a prominent student activist from Periyar University, in connection with her participation at a public meeting on a controversial public works project known as the Salem-Chennai expressway “green corridor.”
Police and government officials held the public meeting to discuss the project with farmers and other stakeholders who have raised environmental concerns about the project. Ms. Madhaiyan was allegedly invited to attend the meeting by local villages.
During the meeting, she reportedly expressed solidarity with the farmers and spoke out against the project. Officials running the meeting asked Ms. Madhaiyan if she owned land in the area that would be affected by the project. She declined and stated that she was there at the invitation of the villagers. Ms. Madhaiyan then reportedly continued to chant slogans against the project. Police arrested Ms. Madhaiyan for disrupting the officials and “instigating” the farmers and other local community members attending the meeting. Ms. Madhaiyan was denied bail twice before being released on July 5.
Ms. Madhaiyan was arrested in July 2017, also in connection with her environmental activism.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of a student in apparent retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with the right to freedom of expression, so long as it is exercised peacefully and responsibly. Arrests aimed at limiting such activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.