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: January 23, 2023

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Jawaharlal Nehru University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | India

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 23, 2023, administrators at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) threatened students with disciplinary action for organizing a documentary screening. Students also reported unidentified individuals throwing stones at them during the screening.

The documentary, titled “India: The Modi Question,” analyzes Prime Minister Modi’s handling of riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002, when he was then Chief Minister of the aforementioned state. Following its release on January 17, Prime Minister Modi’s government described the documentary as “propaganda” and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) used Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, to ban it on YouTube and Twitter.

The screening at JNU was organized by the Students Union and was scheduled to take place in their on-campus office on January 24. The day before, however, JNU’s administration circulated a notice stating that the Students Union had not received permission from the university and warned that unspecified disciplinary actions could be taken if they proceeded with the event. The administration claimed that the documentary screening “may disturb peace and harmony.”

A power outage occurred minutes before the start of the screening, which students allege JNU administration orchestrated. Students then moved to the university cafeteria and watched the documentary on mobile phones. Students alleged that, at one point, stones were thrown at them when they gathered to watch the documentary.

In a statement to Indian Express, an official from the Ministry of Higher Education denied the allegations of a planned power outage.

After the screening, Student Union members marched in protest to a local police station, where they reported the stone throwing.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about a university administration threatening disciplinary action against students in order to deter students from peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. SAR is also concerned about allegations of violent intimidation against students in connection with the same activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, threats of disciplinary action and other forms of intimidation intended to deter expressive activity on campus undermine academic freedom, university autonomy, and democratic society generally.