On January 27, 2023, Central University of Rajasthan (CURAJ) students suspended 11 students, apparently for watching a documentary about India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
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.
On January 26, a group of students gathered at the university’s post office to watch the documentary on their mobile phones. Shortly thereafter, the students were interrupted by the arrival of university security officers and members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student group affiliated with the Hindu-nationalist ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a volunteer organization that also has a Hindu-nationalist ideology. ABVP members argued with students about their decision to watch the documentary and security officers dispersed the group..
Students allege that ABVP members followed some of them back to their hostels, where they shouted slogans outside and attempted to enter their rooms. ABVP members also reportedly published a list of students that allegedly attended the gathering and called for action against them.
The next day, on January 27, CURAJ administration issued a 14-day suspension notice to 11 students who were allegedly present at the film viewing. (The suspension order further bars the students from entering their residence halls during the 14-day period.) The university denied claims that it disciplined the students for watching the film. The students were reportedly suspended under Ordinance 47 of the university’s Code of Conduct, specifically clauses 3.3 (disobeying the instructions of teachers or the authorities) and 3.5 (demonstrating in late hours at places other than designated sites) and 4.3 (expulsion) The administration did not elaborate on the evidentiary basis for citing the students with a violation of Ordinance 47.
The same day, the university announced a ban on all forms of screening the documentary, purportedly to maintain law and order.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the suspension of students for peacefully exercising the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – conduct which is expressly 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. Suspensions of students for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly on campus undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.