On March 10, 2023, University of Delhi (DU) officials debarred PhD candidate Lokesh Chugh, national secretary of the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) for one year, in connection with the screening of a banned BBC documentary on 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 January 17 release, Prime Minister Modi’s government ordered it banned on YouTube and Twitter. The NSUI held a screening of the documentary on January 27, which police shut down, detaining 24 students in the process. (See Report)
In its March 10 order, DU alleged that Chugh was responsible for the situation, and barred him from taking university exams for one year. In an order issued on April 27, the Delhi high court set aside DU’s order, holding that the university had failed to afford Chugh the opportunity to respond to the decision to debar him.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about administrative punishment for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and association on campus, and the failure to afford the subject of such punishment due process in response. Even where they are ultimately reversed in court, such actions are inconsistent with established human rights principles, costly and burdensome for the subjects, and chill the exercise of academic freedom. University authorities should take available measures to protect academic freedom, including by ensuring – and, at a minimum, refraining from punishing – the nonviolent exercise of the right to free expression on campus.