On January 27, 2020, Visva Bharati University (VBU) evicted student Bijju Sarkar from a university dormitory for recording and posting on social media a video of the university’s vice chancellor giving a speech about protests against a controversial citizenship law.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which excludes Muslim migrants from a pathway to citizenship, sparked protests at universities across India after it was enacted in December 2019. While anti-CAA protesters were by and large peaceful, reports indicate that police frequently responded with violence and arrested protesters.
On January 26, VBU vice chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty delivered a speech at VBU’s Purba Pally Senior Boys’ Hostel to commemorate Republic Day, a national holiday that honors the establishment of India’s Constitution. In the speech, Chakraborty defended the CAA and questioned the anti-CAA protests. A video of the speech quickly circulated over social media. The following day, on January 27, students held a protest at VBU calling for Chakraborty’s resignation over concerns that he is “trying to saffronise the campus” (referring to the imposition of a nationalist viewpoint) and enforcing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ideologies.
VBU reportedly reviewed CCTV footage to identify the individual who took the video of Chakraborty’s speech. After Sarkar was allegedly identified as having recorded the speech on his phone, VBU officials gave him an eviction notice, giving him 24 hours to leave the hostel. While VBU did not disclose on what grounds Sarkar was evicted, VBU officials accused him of defamation. On January 28, Sarkar vacated the hostel.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about disciplinary actions against a student in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected under 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. University authorities must refrain from retaliating against expressive activity, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, suspensions and expulsions aimed at restricting or retaliating against such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.