De-registration of student activist sparks campus protests

The student registration of social activist Safoora Zargar was cancelled this week, leading to campus protests by supporters who say she is being targeted for being at the forefront of several protests against India’s contentious nationality law, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), in 2020.

The sociology department at Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) university in New Delhi, where Zargar has been registered for the integrated MPhil-PhD programme since 2019, cancelled Zargar’s registration as an MPhil student on 29 August, ostensibly for not being able to complete work in time. She had been in police custody and dealing with charges during 2020.

“Let it be known, it breaks my heart but not my spirit,” Zargar tweeted. “The usually snail-paced Jamia admin moving at light speed to cancel my admission, foregoing all due process,” she added.

Both Zargar and the university insist they are following the regulations. Student protests against the JMI university administration broke out on 30 August motivated by perceptions that the university had targeted Zargar for her role in demonstrations against the CAA, a law passed by the Indian parliament on 11 December 2019, and widely seen as discriminatory towards minority Muslims. In 2020 the law sparked protests, which turned violent, in parts of the country.

Zargar was arrested and accused of being part of a “conspiracy” to cause riots and of delivering a provocative speech on 23 February 2020. She and other student leaders from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi were accused of being the masterminds behind the February 2020 Delhi violence which led to 50 deaths over 10 days.

Zargar, who was pregnant at the time, remained in custody from 10 April to 24 June 2020. Delhi Police said she was embroiled in a “sinister design” with the “objective of uprooting a democratically elected government”. The High Court of Delhi granted Zargar bail on 23 June 2020 and she was released the next day.

Responding to the cancellation of her student registration, Zargar told University World News: “I don’t know the reason behind this cancellation. Due process actually takes a lot of time, but the letter from the university came very suddenly. And it [came] in anticipation of the faculty committee meeting.”

“Even when the faculty committee met, they had already made up their mind(s) that my admission had to be cancelled. What I feel is that my rights have been violated,” she said.

The office of the dean, faculty of social sciences, in a notification dated 26 August, said Zargar did not submit her MPhil dissertation within the maximum stipulated time of five semesters.

The university additionally said she did not submit within five semesters plus an additional semester of extension granted to scholars by higher education regulator the University Grants Commission (UGC) in view of the COVID-19 pandemic situation. That extension ended on 6 February 2022, with no provision for any further COVID-related extensions as per the UGC notification.

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