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: February 23, 2024

Attack Types: Travel Restrictions

Institution(s):University of Westminster

Region & Country:Southern Asia | India

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 23, 2024, Indian immigration authorities denied Nitasha Kaul – a professor of Politics, International Relations, and Critical Interdisciplinary Studies and the head of the Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) at the University of Westminster’s School of Social Sciences – entry to India. Kaul had traveled to India to participate in a two-day convention held by the Karnataka state government.

On February 5, the minister of social welfare of Karnataka state, H.C. Mahadevappa, wrote to Kaul inviting her to participate in a two-day convention on the “Constitution and National Unity,” to be held on February 24 and 25. Kaul accepted and was scheduled to speak during an interactive session during the conference.

On February 23, when Kaul arrived at Bengaluru airport in Karnataka, immigration authorities detained her and held her for 24 hours before deporting her to London. According to Kaul, immigration officials told her that India’s central government in Delhi had instructed them not to allow her to enter the country. The Karnataka government, which is governed by the opposition Congress party, attempted to intervene, but was unsuccessful.

Indian officials provided Kaul no written documentation and gave no official reason for denying her entry, beyond stating that decisions about the entry of foreign nationals is a “sovereign decision.” Kaul, whose family is from Kashmir, was born in Uttar Pradesh and grew up in India. She is a British citizen and holds an Overseas Citizen of India card, which is a multiple entry, multipurpose, and lifelong visa for visiting India. Kaul reported that immigration authorities had referred to comments that she had made that were critical of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary organization. Kaul testified to the US Congress in 2019 on “Human Rights in South Asia,” during which she called for the demilitarization of Kashmir, the self-determination of the Kashmiri people, and dialogue among Indians, Pakistanis, and Kashmiris.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about state authorities denying a scholar entry to their country in an apparent effort to restrict or retaliate against her nonviolent exercise of academic freedom – 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 signatory. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from actions that restrict or retaliate against academic activity so long as it is peaceful and responsible. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, travel restrictions intended to deter such activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.