On March 31, 2023, state police and paramilitary forces detained students from the University of Delhi’s (DU) Indraprastha College for Women (IPCW) and members of Students’ Federation of India (SFI) and All India Students Association (AISA) who were staging a nonviolent demonstration demanding the resignation of Punam Kumariya, the principal of IPCW.
Over 200 students marched to DU’s Arts Faculty protesting the “inaction” of university authorities and demanding the principal’s removal. The demonstration followed a previous one that had occurred on March 29 (see report). IPCW students have repeatedly experienced sexual harassment, including a recent incident in which several men scaled the walls of the women’s college during an annual festival event. Ahead of the march, police posted signs warning that Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure restricting processions, rallies, demonstrations, and gheraos was in effect. The march was originally planned to take place in front of IPCW, but the heavy police presence forced a shift toward the Arts Faculty. Despite the shift, police and paramilitary forces deployed outside the Arts Faculty at DU in preparation for the protest. They arrested several students and transported them in two buses to the Maurice Nagar and Burari police stations, reportedly registering the students for violating Indian Penal Code Sections 337–endangering the life or personal safety of others–and 188–disobeying public order. The students were released later that evening.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and detention of nonviolent student protesters, including the deployment of paramilitary forces. While state authorities have the right to implement reasonable laws and regulations to ensure order, they must also exercise restraint and refrain from actions that may limit the right to freedom of expression when conducted in a peaceful manner – 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. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of force to restrict or deter nonviolent student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)