On March 18, 2020, Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati (IIT-Guwahati) issued “suspended academic expulsion” notices to two students in apparent retaliation for their activism in support of a professor who was ordered to go on compulsory retirement.
PhD candidates Vikrant Singh and Himanchal Singh had protested in support of IIT-Guwahati professor Brijesh Kumar Rai, who for several years raised criticisms of mismanagement and corruption at the Institute. On January 1, 2020, IIT-Guwahati ordered Rai to retire due to alleged “misconduct.” From January 4-7, the two students engaged in a hunger strike to protest the administration’s decision against Rai.
More than two months after their hunger strike, IIT-Guwahati’s Students’ Disciplinary Committee (SDC) issued Vikrant and Himanchal “suspended academic expulsion” notices in connection with their activities supporting Rai. The notices reportedly stated that Vikrant and Himanchal allegedly participated in the “misinterpretation of facts in print and electronic media,” which has led to defamation of the university’s. The notice reportedly does not provide any evidentiary basis for this allegation. The notice further stated that the students’ hunger strike allegedly interfered with the Institute’s operations. According to the SDC, “[future] violation of any clause of Ordinance on Code and Conduct of Students, including indulging in the above mentioned charges (A,B&C) in future, will lead to your expulsion from the day the SDC deems fit, without further deliberation. No appeal in this regard will be entertained.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of disciplinary measures to retaliate against or 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 for Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. University authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting or retaliating against nonviolent expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Disciplinary measures aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.