On December 15, 2019, police reportedly entered Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and beat and fired tear gas and rubber bullets at students protesting a citizenship bill that was recently signed into law as well as a violent crackdown on student protesters at Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) that same day.
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. The passing of the bill sparked massive protests at Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and AMU.
On December 15, AMU students protesting the bill as well as a violent police crackdown on JMI student protesters earlier that day (see report), attempted to march to a monument just outside AMU’s main gates, a popular location for protest activities. As the students reached the gates, they were reportedly stopped by police.
Although it remains unclear what next happened at the gates, reports indicate that police immediately charged with batons and began firing tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets at student protesters, forcing many of them to seek shelter in campus buildings. Some students reportedly defended themselves by throwing stones at police. As students escaped, police entered AMU’s campus, where they beat and arrested dozens of people. Video footage of the incident also appears to show police with batons and riot gear entering university dormitories. Students claim that police fired barrages of tear gas at dormitories, leading to a fire in one of the buildings, and beat and detained several students. One student was reportedly required to have his hand amputated after picking up a tear gas canister, which then exploded.
It has been estimated that more than one hundred people were injured during the police response at AMU, and extensive property damage was incurred. In response to the incident, local authorities shut off access to the internet in the city of Aligarh for one day, and university administrators announced the closure of the campus until January 6. Local authorities also announced they had taken steps to evacuate AMU dormitories. Media reports indicate that the whereabouts of many of those detained during the clash remain unknown.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the use of violent force, detentions, and entry onto campus by police in an apparent effort to restrict or retaliate against 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.