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Jammu and Kashmir 2022 University Bill Threatens Academic Freedom

In late October 2022, the Jammu and Kashmir Administrative Council (JKAC) passed the Jammu and Kashmir University bill of 2022 without consulting the universities in the region. Designed specifically for this region, the new bill reduces the autonomy of public universities in the Jammu and Kashmir province, which is a highly militarized zone that until August 2019 was granted special status of autonomy in Article 370. The new bill severely reduces university autonomy.

The recent bill replaces the current screening process for new academic positions with a new screening process under the control of the government, the Public Service Commission (JKPSC) and Service Selection Recruitment Board (SSRB), through J & K Public Service Commission. The new screening process includes written tests, the contents of which are determined by the J & K Public Service Commission. The bill also proposes inter-university transfers of scholars, again with the discretion of the Lieutenant Governor of J & K. The Lt Governor will act as Chancellor of the universities, in a position to dismiss any university employee under the suspicion of a “security threat” and do so without any inquiry. Finally, the bill requires universities to provide annual reports to the governing council which has the power to review every aspect of university functioning.

Photo credits: Stand With Kashmir

This bill is only the latest attempt in a series of government moves to oppress and censor academic activity in Kashmir. Since the formal removal of Kashmir’s special status, academic censorship and restriction has been one of many ways, through which the Indian government has maintained control over the region. Kashmiri academics have been closely monitored, surveilled, and told to pursue academic interests that align with the “national interest”. Public persecution, stigmatization, harassment, and restrictions on mobility are also barriers that Kashmiri scholars face. In 2021, the Indian government introduced a new law allowing the dismissal, detention, and arrest of regional government employees under the pretense of national security, which mostly targeted the Department of Education staff. More recently, a Kashmiri scholar was arrested on April 2022 for an article he had written ten years ago.

A stifling and severe consequence of the bill is that universities will not be able to create any new positions, hire new faculty, revise pay or grant special pay to any employee without approval from the government. Jammu University Teachers Association (JUTA) commented that universities are meant to be autonomous bodies and professors are not government employees. JUTA also commented that scholars are not “public servants” and therefore should not be under the purview of the government. JUTA is further concerned that scholars who focus on research will be moved away from public universities, in turn causing a collapse of research culture in public institutions and a decrease in the quality of teaching.

Endangered Scholars Worldwide joins JUTA in condemning government intervention of the functioning of higher education institutions, which infringes on their autonomy. ESW also joins in JUTA’s demand to withdraw this bill and urges the global academic community to join us in demanding the Indian government to honor their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights treaties, including to ensure free and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need of assistance and protection, open borders for the safe movement of students, faculty, artists, human rights activists, and journalists; and to honor the right to education and free expression.

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