On January 9, 2020, police beat and detained several Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students protesting a recent violent attack that had occurred on campus.
On January 5, a mob of roughly fifty masked men stormed JNU and violently attacked leftist students and professors, injuring at least thirty-four (see report). Students allege police and security guards did little to stop the attackers. Many suspect members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a right-wing student organization, of being behind the attack.
On January 9, hundreds of students and professors, as well as members of civil society groups, marched from JNU to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), in New Delhi, to demand the removal of the JNU Vice Chancellor, who they accused of being complicit in the attack. After their arrival, MHRD’s Secretary met with members of JNU students’ union and teachers’ association. The Secretary declined to remove the Vice Chancellor, but offer instead to speak with him. Following the meeting, students marched toward Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the President of India, to continue raising their demand for the Vice Chancellor’s removal.
Police reportedly attempted to quash the students’, blocking their path with barricades. Violent scuffles reportedly broke out between police and students when some students tried to break through the barricades. Police beat students with batons, injuring at least four. Police also reportedly took several students into custody temporarily.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violent force and detentions against students in an apparent effort to restrict the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — 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. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, violent force and arrests intended to restrict expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.