On February 17, 2019, university administrators suspended Papri Banerjee, an assistant professor of English at Icon College of Commerce in Guwahati, for comments she made on Facebook after the Pulwama terror attack.
On February 14, a suicide bomber attacked a convoy of vehicles carrying Indian security personnel in the Pulwama district of Kashmir, killing forty people. The day after the attack, Banerjee posted a message on Facebook that called the attack “an act of cowardice” that “would break the heart of any Indian” but also apparently claimed that the attack was a response to the violent conduct of Indian security services in Kashmir.
University administrators suspended Banerjee from her position on February 17, alleging that she had made “objectionable remarks.” One administrator claimed that Banerjee had negatively impacted the image of the university, which had been accused of “giving shelter to a terrorist” by some members of the public.
Banerjee claims that she received rape, lynching, and death threats after her post went viral on Twitter. Several posts on social media reportedly called for the intervention of Indian police. On February 17, Banerjee was charged with causing “public mischief,” and questioned by the police for several hours before being released. Banerjee reportedly went into hiding the next day allegedly due to concerns about her safety. As of this report, her whereabouts are unknown.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about disciplinary actions against and the prosecution of a scholar in apparent retaliation for her nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression — 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, to which India is a party. University and state authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Retaliation intended to punish such expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.