On December 13, 2019, Indian authorities reportedly beat and fired tear gas at Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) students protesting a controversial citizenship bill that was recently signed into law.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill, ratified on December 12, amends a 1995 citizenship law, which had prohibited undocumented migrants from gaining Indian citizenship. The bill expedites citizenship for religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis, and Jains, who arrived before 2015 from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh; however, the bill does not extend this same benefit to Muslims. Critics of the bill have argued that it is discriminatory and violates the secular nature of India’s constitution.
On December 13, JMI students gathered on campus to march to Parliament to protest against the new bill. According to one source, the protest was organized by the university’s teacher association and was attended by more than one thousand students. Police had reportedly placed barricades near the university entrance as the march began.
When students attempted to climb over the barricades, police reportedly charged with batons and fired tear gas. Sources further indicate that police and students threw stones at each other; students told reporters that police initiated the stone-throwing
By the end of the protest, police had detained fifty students. As many as fifteen students were reportedly hospitalized due to injuries suffered.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force and 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.