On February 10, 2020, police used violent force against Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) students taking part in a protest march against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act. Dozens of protesters were reportedly injured as a result.
Since December 2019, students at universities across the country have held protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The legislation expedites citizenship for several religious minorities but does not include Muslims. Critics of the CAA argue that it is discriminatory and violates the secular nature of India’s constitution. Students protesting the CAA have been met with intense police force, arrests, and other disciplinary measures.
On February 10, at least two hundred students and civilians participated in a march to Parliament, organized by the Jamia Coordination Committee, an organization comprised of JMI students and alumni that have coordinated student protests and press releases, and issued letters around various political issues. Sources indicate that there was a heavy police presence, marked by police blocking the students’ route to Parliament with barricades and riot gear. Police claimed that students allegedly did not have a permit for the march to Parliament.
Over the course of several hours, students attempted to make their way through the police line, including by jumping over the barricades. Students reported that police hit many of them below the belt, apparently to conceal their actions from camera coverage. The clashes with police created panic and scattering among protesters, resulting in some protesters falling to the ground and being trampled. As many as thirty-two students were reportedly hospitalized for their injuries.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of violent force 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. While they may have a responsibility to maintain order and security, they should refrain from the use of force and ensure that their actions are proportionate to the situation. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, violent force intended to restrict expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.