On August 26, 2022, Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMI) canceled the admission of Safoora Zargar, a student activist studying philosophy.
Zargar enrolled at JMI in 2019 and has been working towards her master’s degree studying philosophy in the Department of Sociology. She is also a member of the Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC), a student group that was involved in organizing protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) that the Indian Parliament passed also in 2019. In 2020, Zargar was accused of inciting riots in Delhi between pro and anti-CAA protesters that began on February 23, 2020. She was charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (see report) and imprisoned from April 10 to June 24, 2020. Zargar was pregnant during her imprisonment and was released early because of health concerns.
Due to her imprisonment, Zargar was forced to pause her studies and requested extensions to complete her thesis. The University Grants Commission, a body under India’s Department of Higher Education, currently permits five consecutive extensions. On August 26, 2022, the Dean of Sociology notified Zargar that JMI had canceled her thesis on the recommendation of JMI’s Research Advisory and Department Research committees. According to the university, Zargar enrollment was canceled because she had not submitted her dissertation by February 6, 2022, the end of her third extension. The Research Advisory Committee also stated that Zargar had made unsatisfactory progress in her work.
Zargar denounced JMI’s explanation, stating that she had only received one extension for her thesis She shared that although she had applied for additional extensions, her emails to the vice chancellor and registrar were not answered. Other students reportedly did receive extensions during the same time. Zargar also stated that she had completed her fieldwork and progress reports on time and accused JMI of not following due process regarding the cancellation.
Two days prior to her thesis being canceled, Zargar had participated in an interview with Maktoob during which she accused the Department of Sociology of discriminating against her because of her political activism and her decision to not take maternity leave after she was released from prison in 2020.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about a higher education institution canceling a student’s thesis in apparent retaliation for their exercise of freedom of expression and assembly. University authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliatory actions intended to punish, restrict, or chill the exercise of academic freedom and expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, dismissals stemming from such activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.