On December 21, 2021, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gorakhpur University’s (DDU) administration suspended and launched an investigation into Professor Kamlesh Kumar Gupta for holding a peaceful protest against the university’s vice-chancellor. The administration also issued fines and show-cause notices to seven professors who expressed support for Gupta.
DDU’s vice-chancellor, Dr. Rajesh Singh, has been a controversial figure at the university since he assumed the role in late 2020. He also faced criticisms in his former role as the vice-chancellor at Purnia University, Bihar. According to The Wire, DDU staff have accused Singh of “acting arbitrarily and defying several of the university’s acts and statutes,” as well as “harassing staff members and engaging in money laundering.”
Prior to his protest, Gupta, a professor in the Hindi department, sent a complaint to the office of the chancellor regarding Singh’s conduct. According to The Wire, the complaint contained many allegations against Singh, including but not limited to concerns about his treatment of faculty; disregard for DDU rules and procedures; financial activities at the university; and the concealment of charges and an investigation against him (Singh) during the hiring process. The Wire also reported that Gupta accused Singh of “imposing unlawful orders at his whim and [paralyzing] the constitutional bodies of the university,” as well as attempting to undermine DDU’s Executive Council. He requested that DDU remove Singh from the vice-chancellor position and launch a probe into Singh’s financial activities as vice-chancellor. Gupta then received a letter from the chancellor’s office stating that his complaint had been forwarded to Singh, who was to investigate the content of the complaint.
Dismayed that the vice-chancellor was investigating a complaint about himself, Gupta announced that he would be staging a peaceful protest, or satyagraha, against the vice-chancellor. On December 21, he held a sit-in protest in front of DDU’s administrative building, despite attempts by the dean of student welfare to stop him. He was joined by seven other DDU professors and the sit-in lasted for four hours. DDU suspended Gupta that same day.
According to The Wire, the DDU administration criticized Gupta for harming the university environment, alleged he had failed to provide satisfactory responses to eight past university notices, and claimed he had committed a number of offenses, ranging from misconduct with students to attacking the university on social media to extortion. In a release seen by The Wire, the university stated that by engaging in such conduct, Gupta had violated Chapter 16 of the Statute of the University and Conduct Rule 1956 of the Government of Uttar Pradesh. A three-member committee – two vice-chancellors and a member of DDU’s Executive Council – has been appointed to investigate these accusations. Although Gupta was set to become head of the Hindi department on December 28, the vice-chancellor appointed a different professor in his place, citing the suspension. The seven professors that joined his protest were served show-cause notices and fined a day’s salary. Despite these actions, Gupta continued to protest for four days.
Students and faculty have protested the suspension and encouraged public and social media support for Gupta. ABP Live reported that the vice-chancellor had consequently banned all sit-in demonstrations on campus, threatening disciplinary action against any DDU faculty, staff, or students who violated the ban.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by a university suspending and fining scholars in retaliation for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly – conduct which 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. SAR is further concerned by the university’s decision to restrict peaceful expressive activity on campus. University authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against expressive activities and assemblies so long as they are peaceful and responsible. In addition to harm to the immediate victims, suspensions, fines, and restrictions in retaliation against peaceful expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.