On December 15, 2019, police reportedly used violent force against Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) students demonstrating against a citizenship bill that was recently signed into law. At least fifty students were detained in a campus raid that followed the protest.
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 demonstrated against the bill and were violently repressed by Indian police (see report).
On the morning of December 15, thousands of JMI students marched through neighborhoods bordering the university to protest the citizenship bill. By that afternoon, several thousand student and non-student protesters continued their protest, marching along a road leading to Central Delhi. As many as three hundred police officers were deployed to the road and erected barricades in order to quash the march. Although it remains unclear how the violence was instigated, police reportedly beat and fired tear gas canisters at demonstrators as they approached the barricades. Several vehicles were reportedly stoned and burned during clashes with police.
Sources indicate that police then raided the JMI campus, where they reportedly fired tear gas canisters into the university’s library. Police also reportedly beat an unknown number of JMI students, staff, and journalists who had gathered peacefully on campus, and arrested at least fifty people. Those detained were transferred to a local police station and released the following morning. Some wounded demonstrators claimed that they were shot with bullets; police have disputed this, claiming that they were hit with tear gas shrapnel. Reports suggest that hundreds of people were injured by the end of the day.
JMI administrators have denied giving police permission to enter campus. A group of students later issued a press statement denying any involvement in the violence and destruction of vehicles that took place during the march. Police later arrested ten individuals on arson and rioting charges connected to the protests, none of them students.
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.