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 17, 2018

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Mahatma Gandhi Central University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | India

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 17, 2018, a large group reportedly violently attacked Sanjay Kumar, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mahatma Gandhi Central University (MGCU), in apparent retaliation for nonviolent, expressive activity, including social media posts that criticized the late and former Prime Minister (PM) Atal Bihar Vajpayee.

On August 16, Professor Kumar reportedly published a comment on a friend’s Facebook post regarding PM Vajpayee, who had died earlier that day, that was critical of the late PM’s rule. Shortly after publishing the comment, Professor Kumar reported receiving threatening messages on social media and by telephone. On the afternoon of August 17, a group of at least ten men reportedly stormed Professor Kumar’s home in Motihari and dragged him out to the street, where they beat him and poured gasoline on him.

Professor Kumar reported that the attackers asked him about alleged comments he made that were critical of the MGCU Vice Chancellor Arving Kumar Agarwal as well as other university issues. Professor Kumar is a member of MGCU’s Teachers Association, which has reportedly criticized VC Agarwal’s policies related to staff recruitment, his handling of sexual harassment allegations, and alleged threats made against faculty.

Following the attack, Professor Kumar was hospitalized and treated for internal injuries. As of this report, police have arrested two people on charges of “criminal conspiracy” in connection with the attack; suspects reportedly include individuals affiliated with MGCU. The MGCU administration has ordered its campus closed indefinitely in connection with the attack.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about an apparently targeted attack on a scholar in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association. State officials have a responsibility to investigate such attacks, hold perpetrators accountable, and take reasonable steps to ensure the security of higher education communities and prevent future attacks. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and democratic society generally.