SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: November 18, 2019

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Jawaharlal Nehru University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | India

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 18, 2019, police reportedly used violent force against students demonstrating against a fee hike at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

For over two weeks, JNU students had reportedly been protesting a residence hall fee hike, dress code, and curfew, among other items proposed by the university administration. In some instances, including a November 11 protest (see report), police used force against student protesters.

On November 18, over one hundred students reportedly gathered on campus to march to Parliament to ask lawmakers to intervene in JNU’s proposal to raise fees. Police armed with water cannons were reportedly deployed outside of the JNU campus and had set up barricades. Students, however, broke through the barricades as they attempted to continue marching towards Parliament. Student protesters reported that police attacked them batons during their march, resulting in multiple student injuries.

Police reportedly arrested dozens of students, while one source described as many as one hundred protesters being arrested. Reports indicate that they were released hours later; it is unclear whether they face charges.

Following their release, police reportedly escorted four members of the JNU Student Union to meet with the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, with whom they shared their demands.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about police efforts, including the use of force, to restrict student expression — conduct that is expressly protected by 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. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain security and order, they also have an obligation to ensure that their actions are proportionate, do not harm members of the higher education community, and are not undertaken to restrict or retaliate against peaceful expressive activity. Such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.