On February 15, 2023, police detained several students during protests at Maharshi Dayanand University (MDU), when the Chief Minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, visited the campus.
Khattar visited MDU to mark the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of Arya Samaj, a reform movement of modern Hinduism.
Various activist groups organized a demonstration at the main gate of MDU when Khattar was arriving on campus. They demanded the arrest and termination of Sandeep Singh, the Sports Minister of Haryana, based on sexual assault allegations brought by a MDU coach. When protesters attempted to sit on the road outside the university gate, police reportedly took a number of them into custody.
Shortly thereafter, Khattar delivered a speech in an auditorium on campus when over two dozen students stood on their seats and raised their demands for Khattar to terminate Singh from his position. When the students reportedly refused to sit at Khattar’s request, Khattar ordered police to remove the students from the auditorium. Police reportedly temporarily detained the students and registered a case against two of the students for chanting during Khattar’s speech. All the students were reportedly released on bail.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and detention of students for peacefully exercising their 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. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain safety and order, they also have an obligation to refrain from restricting nonviolent expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, detentions aimed at restricting students’ freedom of expression and assembly undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)