University of St. Andrews and University of Warwick, UK

It is with profound disquiet that we note the concerted suppression of free speech and political debate that is currently under way in India. Since February 9, the government – aided by prominent media houses – has carried out a campaign of slander and vilification against students for having shouted ‘anti-India slogans’ at a protest march held in Jawaharlal Nehru University. The president of the students’ union in JNU has been arrested, on no basis other than his presence at an open public demonstration. This incident has spiralled into what can only be described as a witch-hunt against left-wing students, whose names and faces have been plastered all over social media, news channels and city walls. Exhortations to punish and even kill them are made with impunity. Lynch mobs have gathered outside the JNU campus and on the streets of Delhi. On two successive days, students and teachers and journalists have been violently assaulted – by lawyers, and a legislator from the ruling party, the BJP. This happened at a court of law in the capital city, and in both cases the police stood by without intervening to protect the victims. The open complicity of the ruling dispensation in the ongoing violence against dissenters should be a matter of great worry to all those who hold democratic freedoms dear.

We also note that the recent events are not isolated. They are part of a disturbing and continuous series of assaults on dissenting voices, especially in university contexts. At Hyderabad Central University, a young Dalit student, Rohith Vemula, was driven to commit suicide by a similar witch-hunt instigated by right-wing Hindu nationalist groups linked to the ruling party. Student protests at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) have been suppressed with great violence. In these and other cases, legal norms have been flouted with impunity by those who have the responsibility of upholding them. It is evident that the freedoms of opinion, expression and public assembly, all notionally protected under the Constitution of India, are in fact gravely imperilled.

Universities as spaces of free discussion must be protected. We must not allow the suppression of critique and dissent, expressed openly and democratically, on these fabricated grounds of ‘sedition’. We cannot let this intimidation campaign, based on false and dishonest premises, go unprotested. Above all, we stand in solidarity with, and express our deep admiration for, the students and teachers who have faced this assault on their freedoms, and on Indian democracy itself, with such courage, and such commitment to India’s finest traditions of peaceful democratic protest.

Signed:

The University and College Union at the University of St. Andrews, UK

The University and College Union at the University of Warwick, UK

Comments are closed.