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 25, 2023

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Jamia Millia Islamia University

Region & Country:Southern Asia | India

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 25, 2023, police detained at least a dozen students at Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMI) in connection with a planned documentary 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 Students Federation of India (SFI), a left-wing student organization affiliated with the Communist Party of India, announced the screening on January 24. On the same day, JMI’s administration issued a notice stating that on-campus gatherings would not be allowed without permission from the university. On January 25, JMI issued another notice, which directly named SFI and threatened disciplinary action against students who did not follow the guidelines. According to reports, dozens of police were deployed on campus in preparation and campus gates were closed hours before the beginning of the screening, which prevented all students from entering and leaving.

When SFI members attempted to enter the campus for the screening, university staff denied them access. Additional SFI members and other JMI students then gathered to protest against JMI’s actions. New Delhi police reportedly detained those who demonstrated and chanted slogans.

The students were taken to different police stations and released a day later on January 26. They were not charged with a crime.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about police detaining students peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression on campus – 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. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the arrest of students for on-campus expressive activity undermines academic freedom, university autonomy, and democratic society generally.