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: August 13, 2018

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Jawaharlal Nehru University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | India

New or Ongoing:Ongoing Incident

On August 13, 2018, an unidentified, armed individual reportedly attacked Umar Khalid, a prominent student activist and a PhD candidate at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), in apparent retaliation for his peaceful activism.

Sources indicate that Mr. Khalid was attacked outside the Constitution Club in New Delhi as he made his way to an event on hate crimes in India at which he was expected to speak. A man approached Mr. Khalid, pushed him to the ground, and attempted to fire a gun at him before Mr. Khalid and his friends pushed him away. The attacker then reportedly fired his gun into the air and fled the scene; no injuries were reported. As of this report, police have opened a criminal investigation.

The attack on Mr. Khalid comes just months after he filed a complaint to police regarding alleged death threats he and fellow activists Jignesh Mevani and Shehla Rashid received in June 2018, and requested police protection. Sources indicate that Mr. Mevani reported that a man who identified himself as Ravi Pujari called him repeatedly over the course of several days and demanded that he, Mr. Khalid, and Ms. Rashid stop giving speeches or risk being killed; the three have frequently made public remarks on issues of caste and human rights in India. Mr. Khalid has alleged receiving similar death threats against him since February 2016, when he was arrested and charged with sedition in connection with his participation at a protest at JNU. JNU’s administration later recommended expulsion of Mr. Khalid — a decision the university upheld in June 2018 — and have reportedly denied his submission of his doctoral thesis.

Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about an apparently targeted attack on a student in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and freedom of expression. State authorities have a responsibility to ensure the security of members of the higher education community, to prevent future attacks, and to hold perpetrators of violent attacks accountable.