On October 9, 2019, the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya (MGAHV) administration reportedly expelled six students for organizing a nonviolent campus demonstration to raise concern over human rights issues in the country. The university has since revoked the expulsion.
Despite not being granted permission to organize the event, around one hundred students participated in the demonstration, in which students wrote letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing abuses in Kashmir, mob lynchings, and sexual assault allegations against several politicians, among other issues. MGAHV security were reportedly deployed and blocked students from entering Gandhi Hall, a convention center at the university. The students continued their protest by holding a sit-in in front of Gandhi Hall.
Hours later, the MGAHV administration issued a letter expelling six student organizers for “interference to administrative process” and “violation of model code of conduct.” The model code of conduct, which sets guidelines to ensure free and fair elections, including prohibiting political parties or candidates from activity that may escalate tensions between different groups, was implemented in the state of Maharashtra until assembly elections are held on October 21. The model code of conduct applies to political parties and candidates, not to students.
The students expelled are Vaibhav Pimpalkar, Chandan Saroj, Pankaj Vela, Neeraj Kumar, Rajneesh Ambedkar, and Rajesh Sarthi. Despite the expulsion, the students delivered the letter to Modi.
The Wardha district collector, who is responsible for complaints of violations of the model code of conduct, wrote to MGAHV asking the university to address the expulsion under the university’s rules and not the model code of conduct. The collector reportedly issued notices to the five students requesting their responses to the complaint.
After nationwide criticism, on October 13, the MGAHV revoked the expulsion. MGAHV administration is reportedly planning to investigate the students’ activity to determine whether they violated any university rules. The inquiry by the collector and the MGAHV administration are ongoing as of this report.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about disciplinary actions against students in apparent retaliation for the 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 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.