On March 28, 2019, Indian authorities reportedly detained Jean Dreze, a renowned economist and visiting professor at Ranchi University, for holding a public meeting to discuss the “Right to Food” movement.
Prior to the incident, a nonprofit organization in India’s Jharkhand state invited Dreze to speak about the “Right to Food,” a social movement seeking broader recognition of access to adequate food and nutrition as fundamental social and human rights that should be guaranteed by states through tangible policy action. Dreze reportedly claimed that local authorities had ignored multiple attempts by the event’s organizers to obtain written permission to hold a public event.
Shortly after the meeting began in the town of Garhwa, police reportedly surrounded and detained Dreze along with an unspecified number of activists. Dreze was reportedly transported to a local police station and held for two hours before being released on bail.
News about the event spread across social media in India and reportedly sparked outrage among some segments of the public. In response, police claimed they had arrested Dreze because the meeting required an official permit according to India’s “Model Code of Conduct,” a law that places restrictions on political gatherings prior to elections in India. Dreze, alongside other critics, have reportedly argued that the law applies to political parties and not to private citizens.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention of a scholar in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is explicitly 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. State authorities have a responsibility to not interfere with these rights so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. The use of detentions to retaliate against peaceful expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.