From December 9 to 10, 2019, police reportedly detained eleven members of the All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU), apparently to disrupt the students’ efforts to protest a controversial piece of immigration legislation.
At the time of the detentions, university students across India were protesting the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which amends a 1995 citizenship law that had prohibited undocumented migrants from gaining Indian citizenship. Ultimately ratified on December 12, the Citizenship Amendment Act expedites citizenship for religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis, and Jains, who arrived before 2015 from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh; however, it does not extend this same benefit to Muslims. Critics of the legislation have argued that it is discriminatory and violates the secular nature of India’s constitution. Student protests over the bill were met with intense responses by police, including significant use of force and arrests.
Reports indicate that AMSU was involved in efforts to protest the citizenship bill, including a “bandh” (a form of general strike) that had been organized by the North East Students’ Organisation for December 10. Prior to the start of the bandh, on the evening of December 9, police detained three students at the AMSU office on the Dhanamanjuri University campus. Officers reportedly did not have a warrant for the students’ arrest. The next day, police detained another eight students off campus on charges that relate to unlawful assembly and criminal intimidation. The students were released unconditionally on December 13 and 14.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the detentions to restrict nonviolent 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 safety and order, they also have a responsibility to refrain from restricting or retaliating against peaceful expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.