On May 25, 2019, authorities reportedly arrested and imprisoned Jeetrai Hansda, a professor at Kolhan University in Jharkhand, in apparent retaliation for a Facebook post he published in 2017.
Hansda is a scholar of theater and a member of an indigenous minority group called the Adavasi who hold social, cultural, and religious practices distinct from the various segments of India’s Hindu majority. In particular, many Adavasis eat beef, a practice explicitly prohibited by Hinduism.
In June 2017, Hansda reportedly posted a message on Facebook that criticized a ban on the sale and purchase of beef that had been instituted by the Indian government that year. Hansda argued that the consumption of beef was traditional for Adavasis and that they should not be forced by law to “live like Hindus.” The ban was later suspended by India’s Supreme Court.
In response to the post, unknown individuals filed complaints against Hansda with local police and Kolhan University. Hansda was reportedly initially summoned to the police station after the complaints but was not arrested. University officials reportedly sent a letter threatening to take disciplinary action against Hansda for the incident. Hansda’s wife and several acquaintances have reportedly alleged that university officials pressured Hansda into leaving his academic post.
On May 25, 2019, police charged Hansda with “insulting religious feelings and attempts to promote enmity between groups of people.” Police claim their arrest took place two years after Hansda’s post because he was hiding. Hansda’s lawyers reject this claim and have reportedly suggested authorities waited for Indian elections to conclude before making the arrest. As of this report, Hansda remains in prison and has not yet received a trial.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and imprisonment by state authorities, and apparent disciplinary action by university authorities, against a scholar in apparent connection to his peaceful 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 signatory. State and university authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with academic freedom and 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.