On January 16, 2020, two students from Visva Bharati University were reportedly assaulted for organizing campus protests against a citizenship bill that had recently been signed into law.
The students, Phalguni Pan and Swapnaneel Mukhopadhyay, are members of the Students Federation of India (SFI) and had reportedly organized a January 8 protest against the university’s decision to invite Swapan Dasgupta, a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling Hindu nationalist political party. Dasgupta had planned to give a lecture on the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, ratified on December 12, which expedites citizenship for several religious minorities but does not include Muslims. Students protesting the citizenship bill have been met with violence from police and individuals suspected to be affiliated with the BJP.
The students allege that while returning to their dormitory, two members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a right-wing student organization and the student wing of the BJP, attacked them, beating Pan and Mukhopadhyay with sticks. The students were reportedly hospitalized as a result of their injuries. The ABVP members allegedly attempted to enter the hospital to continue the attack; authorities were forced to lock the hospital gates to prevent them from entering. The ABVP has denied allegations that their members were behind the attack.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violent, targeted attacks on students in apparent retaliation for their nonviolent exercise of the rights to free association, assembly, 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.