On January 26, 2020, police blocked University of Hyderabad (UoH) students from participating in an off-campus protest march on Republic Day, and detained a number of them.
India’s Republic Day, which recognizes the anniversary of India’s constitution coming into force, typically features rallies and marches to recognize the national holiday. To mark Republic Day 2020, UoH’s Students Union called for a “Save Constitution” [sic] march to protest against a controversial citizenship bill that was recently signed into law as well as government plans to institute citizen and resident registries nationwide. Since December 2019, students at many universities throughout India have held similar protests, many of which have been met with violent force by police.
Roughly two hundred students showed up for the January 26 march, which was expected to lead participants off-campus to a nearby statue of the late Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a scholar, lawyer, and an architect of India’s constitution. Before students could make their way off-campus, police armed with water cannons reportedly blocked their exit and barricaded them behind campus gates. Police claimed that students allegedly did not have permission for the march. While barricaded behind the campus gates, students continued to protest peacefully, waving flags and chanting slogans for several hours.
Police detained a number of students at the protest, including UoH student union president Abhishek Nandan. Sources suggest that the students may face charges related to unlawful assembly and public nuisance, among other violations. The evidentiary basis for their detentions and any criminal charges being considered has not been publicly disclosed as of this report.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by state efforts to restrict 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. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting expressive activity, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, efforts to restrict student expression, including blockading campus gates and detaining nonviolent student protesters, undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.