SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: October 15, 2020

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Anna University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | India

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 15, 2020, police arrested student members of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) youth wing, a student organization connected to the left-wing ruling party of Tamil Nadu, during protests challenging actions by the vice-chancellor of Anna University.

DMK members called for the resignation of vice-chancellor M.K. Surappa over the implementation of a policy that would make Anna University into an Institute of Eminence, which would reduce government oversight of the university and potentially allow certain changes in policy. DMK students raised concerns that the university might repeal a provision that prohibits it from turning students away on financial grounds, making it more difficult for poor students to attend. Student members of the DMK protested peacefully at university campuses throughout the state of Tamil Nadu, including at Anna University, the Government College of Technology, Thanthai Periyar Engineering College, and the Government Engineering College. Police reportedly arrested several students during the protests. As of this report, it is not clear whether the students were charged with a crime.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the imprisonment of students in apparent retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity — 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 retaliating against such conduct. In addition to the harm to the immediate individual, detentions intended to punish nonviolent expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.

*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).