On December 9, 2019, police reportedly used violent force against Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students peacefully marching over a recent hostel fee hike.
Since November, students at JNU had been holding protests and marches over a residence hall fee hike, a dress code, and curfew, among other items proposed by the university administration. A number of these protests were marked by violent responses by police against student protesters.
These protests continued on December 9, when a group of JNU students marched towards the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the official residence of India’s president, where they planned to raise their demands with the country’s president. Police had reportedly cordoned off access points to the Rashtrapati Bhawan in anticipation of their protest.
When the students approached the Bhikaji Cama Place metro station, they reportedly attempted to jump over police barricades. Police then reportedly charged at and beat students with batons (a technique known as a “lathi charge”). At least two sources indicate that police detained a number of students.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about reports of detentions and the use of force by police to restrict peaceful 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 and democratic society generally.