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India: Protect universities and academic freedom from threat of violence and intimidation - say human rights groups

22 February

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PEOPLE’S UNION FOR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS (PUDR)

Press Statement

22-02-2017

PUDR condemns the hooliganism of ABVP and police inaction at Ramjas College of Delhi University

In the most appalling display of hooliganism in the name of nationalism, the members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) took to violence in the premises of Delhi University over the last two days. The complete impunity that they enjoyed was evident in the fact that despite heavy police presence in campus on both days, the goons were allowed to go on a rampage physically assaulting teachers, students and media reporters, and till now no FIR has been registered against them.

The incident of hooliganism began when ABVP disrupted a panel discussion being organised as part of a seminar on ‘Cultures of Protest’ in Ramjas College of Delhi University on 21st February 2017, and the complicity of the police in allowing this to happen in their presence was evident from the beginning. The session which irked the miscreants was the one titled ‘Unveiling the State: Regions in Conflict’ in which the JNU student political activist Umar Khalid was to speak on ‘The War in Adivasi Areas’. Shortly before the event was to take place, about a hundred people gathered outside the college and threatened the organisers with violence if the ‘anti-national’ Umar was allowed to speak. Following an escalation of tension and refusal by the Delhi Police to act to ensure safety of the students and teachers, the Principal withdrew permission for the talk and the session was decided to continue with the other two speakers on the panel. The ABVP members then surrounded the seminar room, locked teachers and students inside and engaged in grave physical assault by pelting stones and hitting people with hockey sticks and rods. It is a clear illustration of the state of our democracy wherein the police as the custodian of law not only did nothing to restrain the ABVP, but rather stated that they would not control them in any way and that any violence ensuing henceforth would be considered the responsibility of the organizers of the seminar. They stood by as mute spectators even as the hooligans went on a rampant ravage destroying the college property and assaulting students and teachers, lending credence to the slogan being given by the ABVP that ‘yeh andar ki baat hai, police hamare saath hai.’ It is reported that women and queer students and activists were especially targeted and physically manhandled.

On 22nd February when the students’ groups had organized a peaceful march from Ramjas college to Maurice Nagar Police station to demand for the registration of FIR against the ABVP members, the goons attacked the march, bricks were hurled, stones were thrown, women protestors were roughed up and physically assaulted and media persons trying to shoot the ruckus created by the goons were beaten up. A professor from Ramjas College and few students were badly injured and had to be hospitalized. The police intervened by barricading and separating the two groups who had assembled in front of the Maurice Nagar police station but did nothing beyond. After much insistence the police allowed the protestors to hand over written complains to them but no FIR has been registered so far on the basis of those complaints. Later in the evening, the students protesting peacefully were beaten up and taken in two buses to an undisclosed location. However the ABVP goons have still got a free reign over the DU campus and continue to physically attack students who were seen to be part of the protesting group.

The crackdown on dissent here is not an isolated phenomenon and can be linked to the enforced shutting down of dissenting voices throughout the country from conflict areas such as Chhattisgarh or Kashmir to numerous educational institutions such as JNU, HCU, Meerut University, Allahabad University etc. University spaces have increasingly witnessed intolerance towards critical questions and voices, with the administration and the police demonstrating their complete agreement to the mainstream custodians of ‘nationalism’. In fact, Delhi University has itself been witness to numerous such incidents in the past wherein the ABVP has disrupted talks, documentary screenings and other peaceful demonstrations. In all these instances, the easiness with which the university administration bends to the pressures posed by the bullies and promptly withdraws permission for said events has only bolstered the confidence of these groups as has the repeated inaction of the police forces. In such an atmosphere, the students and teachers of Ramjas College and otherwise, must indeed be applauded for their brave stance in not only taking up such issues but also continuing to assert their democratic right to speech even when faced with such violence.

On its visit to the police station today, PUDR made a submission making reference to the Supreme Court judgement in Lalita Kumari vs State of UP (2013) which laid down mandatory guidelines for police to register an FIR in case of a cognizable offence. We demand that the police be brought to take action against the ABVP members who wreaked havoc in the university. Further it is imperative that the university administration take necessary steps to ensure that meetings, discussions and talks are held in educational institutions without threat of violence and fear so as to protect the space wherein students can engage freely in a true democratic sense.

Cijo Joy and Anushka Singh

Secretaries, PUDR

22nd February 2017

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Amnesty International India

Free Speech in Indian Universities under Threat

22 February 2017, 08:39PM

Recent events at Ramjas college in Delhi illustrate the growing threat to freedom of expression on Indian university campuses, said Amnesty International India today.

Several people were injured in clashes between student groups in Ramjas college, Delhi on Wednesday. Three journalists told Amnesty International India they had been assaulted by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

On Tuesday, a seminar on ‘Cultures of Protest’ organised at the college was cancelled after members of the ABVP obstructed the event.

“Universities are supposed to be safe spaces for debate and discussion. But the events at Ramjas College are a shameful reminder of how intimidation and threats continue to restrict free speech on university campuses,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director at Amnesty International India.

“Authorities need to protect academic freedom, which is crucial to the right to education. The Delhi police must ensure that students at universities can express their opinions without fear of repression by anyone.”

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