On January 5, 2020, a mob of masked individuals carried out a politically-motivated attack on students and professors at Jawaharlal Nehru University, leaving at least thirty-four injured.
The attack began between 7 and 8 PM, when a group of roughly fifty masked men armed with iron rods, sticks, and broken bottles stormed the campus, and began vandalizing property and chanting Hindu-nationalist slogans, including “Hail Lord Ram.” The attackers then entered residence halls and beat leftist students and faculty, including JNU’s student union president Aishe Ghosh. According to one source, attackers asked one student about his ideological beliefs, sparing him after he allegedly pointed to a book he was holding titled “Hindu Nationalism”. Journalists and medical personnel were also reportedly attacked as they attempted to access the campus.
Students claimed that the attackers belonged to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a right-wing student organization and the student wing of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. ABVP has denied accusations that they were involved in the attack; however, screenshots of WhatsApp chat transcripts obtained and analyzed by journalists suggest that the attack was coordinated via chat groups run by alleged ABVP members.
Students also told media outlets that police and security guards did little to stop the attackers and that some police joined in chanting nationalist slogans. In comments to the press, a police spokesperson denied such allegations and said that the university was under control and that police would investigate and hold the attackers accountable.
The January 5 attack was carried out amidst ongoing student protests at JNU over proposed hostel fee hikes as well as the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, ratified on December 12, which expedites citizenship for several religious minorities but does not include Muslims. Police have arrested and used violent force against students in a growing number of recent demonstration at JNU and on other Indian university campuses.
Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about violent, targeted attacks on students and faculty in apparent retaliation for their nonviolent exercise of the rights to free association and expression. State and university authorities have a responsibility to prevent and respond to such attacks, including by investigating and holding perpetrators responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, violent attacks on campus undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.