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: November 17, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Various Institutions

Region & Country:Southern Asia | India

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 17, police in Madurai arrested 150 college students and opened cases against over 700 others for participating in protests calling for online exams.

On November 15, students at The American College in the city of Madurai launched protests responding to a decision by the college to comply with  a decision by the state government of Tamil Nadu mandating that all semester examinations be held in an offline format. Students argued that the decision did not make sense due to how much of the semester’s instruction occurred online. According to The Hindu, “more than 50% of teaching [at The American College]… was through online mode and even the internal examinations were conducted in online mode.” Students there alleged that transitioning the examinations to an offline format would take more time, and ended their protest following a university announcement that the semester examinations would be postponed two weeks to allow for more time to transition. However, other protests continued throughout the city for the following two days, with students from additional local institutions gathering both on campuses and in front of the Madurai District Collector’s Office. Times of India reported that the protests disrupted traffic and in one instance, a bus was damaged. Despite the state’s higher education office reiterating on November 16 that all semester examinations would be held offline and the police and district authorities warning students not to participate, the protests persisted.

On November 17, the police presence was increased around all major universities and several localities in Madurai. Police in riot gear stopped and arrested roughly 150 students attempting to participate in protest activities in the locality of Chockikulam. According to Time.News, the students were placed in trucks and transported to a private hall where they were held. That same day, cases were registered against over 700 students that participated in protests the previous day, including students from King Thirumalai Nayakkar College, Government Polytechnic, Kamaraj University College, Mathura College, and Saurashtra College. Time.News reported that the students involved in the cases were accused of “disturbing public peace, gathering crowds, [and] attempting to post misleading comments.”

On November 19, K. Ponmudi, the Minister of Higher Education for Tamil Nadu, announced that semester examinations in the state would not begin until January 20 to give students more time to prepare for the offline format. He also announced that the state would withdraw the cases that had been filed against the student protesters.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the arbitrary detention and filing of criminal cases against students peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly – conduct that is 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 restricting or retaliating against expressive activities and assemblies as long as they are peaceful and responsible. In addition to harm to the immediate victims, detentions and legal actions intended to restrict peaceful student expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.