On September 21, 2018, local police raided Manipur University student residences after midnight, waking up students, allegedly fighting with them outside the residences, and firing tear gas at them, before taking about 90 students and six professors into custody. The incident left at least ten students injured, and a witness described the scene as being “like a war zone.”
The incident occurred against the backdrop of several months of protests by the university’s students union and teachers association, who demanded the removal of Vice Chancellor Adya Pandey for incompetence, administrative inefficiency, and “saffronisation.” The protests had previously led to an 85-day shut-down from May 31 to August 23, 2018. Pandey had agreed to go on voluntary leave until an investigation against him was completed; however, he returned to the university in early September, reportedly suspended university students and professors in apparent retaliation for their involvement in the protests, and appointed a colleague, Y Yugindro Signh, as the Pro-Vice Chancellor (the university’s union ministry re-suspended Pandey on September 17).
On September 20, Singh reportedly entered the campus, along with the university’s registrar-in-charge, to assume his role as Pro-Vice Chancellor, when he was met by a group of protesters who alleged that his appointment in that role had been illegal. Singh claimed that some of these students and professors then manhandled and “forcibly kidnapped” him and the registrar, took them to an unknown location, questioned him, and forced him to sign a document indicating that his appointment was illegal. Other reports suggest that Singh agreed to speak with the students and professors, voluntarily went with them to a room on campus where they held a three-hour discussion, and he agreed that his appointment had been improper. As he was leaving campus, some students threw eggs at Singh’s car.
Singh filed a complaint later that day with local police, naming seventeen students and six professors and accusing them of crimes including wrongful confinement, attempted murder, and intimidation in connection with the events that transpired earlier.
Just after midnight that night, local police began raiding the campus and student residences, reportedly manhandling students and professors, and firing tear gas and mock bombs at the students, before taking roughly 90 students and six faculty into custody. After the raid, the university suspended academic activity, sealed off the campus, increased police presence, and issued a five day state internet ban.
After the raid, on September 21, roughly 90 students and six faculty went before a judicial magistrate. About 80 of the students were released, while eight students and six professors were sent to jail for 15 days, and an additional two students were ordered to remain in custody for five days. The students and professors who remained in custody were charged for wrongful confinement, attempt to murder, and intimidation. On October 16, 2018, all of the students and professors were released, after a magistrate found that the evidence against them had been insufficient.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violent and apparently disproportionate force, as well as mass and apparently arbitrary arrests, by police against students and scholars on a university campus. State authorities have a responsibility to ensure the security of higher education communities. While authorities have an obligation to maintain order and police criminal activity, such activities must be undertaken with due regard for applicable rights including due process and freedom from arbitrary arrest and confinement. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and institutional autonomy.