On June 30, 2021, the Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD) proctor ordered a student to pay a fine for posting “distasteful” comments about Delhi government officials during an online graduation ceremony.
On December 23, 2020, AUD held a virtual commencement ceremony on YouTube amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was the featured speaker. According to reports, AUD students used the YouTube chat function of the ceremony to protest a university fee hike and the Delhi government. The university’s order states that a student, referred to as Neha, used the YouTube chat function during the ceremony to leave comments that could be considered “derogatory” and distasteful,” in violation of the university’s code of conduct, and ordered the student to pay a fine of INR 5,000 (approximately USD $67). Neha, who was the only student issued a fine for the comments, maintains that the university used her to set an example to other student protesters. It is unclear what Neha’s comments said specifically.
On July 5, Deputy Chief Education Minister Manish Sisodia issued a letter to Delhi’s Principal Secretary on Higher Education requesting that the fine and any punishments taken against the student be dismissed. In the letter, Sisodia states that all universities in Delhi should respect a student’s right to express a viewpoint “different from the government or the university,” and that a university “should be a safe space for students to freely voice their opinions.” It is unclear whether or not AUD has suspended the fine.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the fining of a student in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights 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 should refrain from retaliating against expressive activity, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, punishments aimed at restricting or retaliating against such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.