On May 10, 2022, students in the right wing group Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and others reportedly surrounded Ravi Kant Chandan, a Dalit professor of Hindi at Lucknow University, and verbally harassed and threatened him while he was walking on campus due to comments he made during an online event. Kant was attacked again on May 18, including physically, and a student also filed a criminal complaint against him with local authorities, causing an investigation to be opened.
On May 9, Kant participated in an online debate on the Gyanvapi mosque dispute, during which he relayed a story from Feathers and Stones by Pattabhi Sitaramayya. The story describes how at the location of the dispute, a mosque had allegedly been constructed after an emperor ordered the destruction of a temple on the same spot due to a rape that had taken place inside. Although Kant explicitly stated that it was a story and not fact, an edited clip of the video without his qualifying statement began circulating on social media and various Hindu groups accused him of disrespecting Hindu deities.
In response, members of ABVP and others mobbed Kant while he was on campus and verbally abused and threatened him, forcing him to seek shelter for hours in the proctor’s office. In a video of the incident shared to social media, a large group of students can be seen surrounding Kant and chanting at him. According to Hindustan Times, Kant believed the students wanted to kill him.
A first information report (FIR) was also registered against Kant due to a complaint submitted to the police by Aman Dubey, a student at the university, meaning the police can now begin an investigation. According to The Wire, in the FIR, he was “charged under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 153-A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion etc.); 504 (intentional insult with the intent to prove a breach of peace); 505(2) (statements conducive to public mischief committed in a place of worship); and Section 66 of the IT Act.” It also alleges that he “hurt the sentiments of Hindu students on campus and that he had brought goons from outside to attack students on campus.” Although Kant also submitted a complaint against the students with the police on May 10, they had not registered an FIR in response to his complaint as of May 27.
On May 18, he was reportedly attacked again on campus. While Kant was walking on campus, Karthik Pandey, a student leader of the democratic-leaning Samajwadi Chhatra Sabha, approached him then hit and verbally abused him with caste-based insults. Pandey was quickly detained and an FIR was registered for this incident. He was also suspended from Lucknow University.
Notably, in addition to his comments being taken out of context, Kant believes the abuse is due to his Dalit identity.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about repeated attacks and the filing of a criminal complaint against a scholar for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression – 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. Students have a responsibility to refrain from threats, harassment, and physical violence, and should respect a scholar’s right to hold and express different political views and ideologies. State and university authorities should also take steps to protect students from violence, including by investigating such incidents and holding perpetrators responsible. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, violent attacks and criminal complaints in response to a scholar’s expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.