Former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian on Saturday warned that recent actions against university students could “triply undermine” the government’s motto of inclusive development as they can block the creation of human capital, social peace and strong institutions.

In an opinion article in The Indian Express, Subramanian said the fears of students who oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act must be heard and addressed. “Are their fears exaggerated or misplaced? Regardless, they must be heard,” he said. “How else will we be able to understand and address their concerns? And to be clear, address them we must.”

Subramanian wrote that “something has changed” recently at India’s universities. He warned that if they become “war zones”, the economy will not build human capital and “we [will] make carcasses of the hopes of our students”. The web version of the article was titled “Psychological burdens of violence on students could turn the demographic dividend into a demographic wasteland”.

Subramanian wrote that the higher education system routinely failed India’s youth, and chances of getting decent, well-paying jobs were becoming more grim. “To heap violence and physical and psychological insecurity only adds more hopelessness to their educational years and to their sense of the future that awaits them,” he said.

The economist, who now teaches at Harvard University, said that “thugs armed not just with weapons but with ideological hate” were perpetrating unprovoked violence in campuses across India. He said students were being attacked for “exercising their right of expression, their right to articulate their concerns and opinions about a set of measures they fear might consign many Indians to second-class citizenship, if not deprive them of their identity altogether”. He was referring to last month’s amendments to the Citizenship Act, which have triggered nationwide protests.

“We speak of creating a $5-trillion economy by taking advantage of our demographic dividend,” Subramanian said. “But if our universities become war zones rather than sacred sanctuaries of learning, we don’t build human capital.”

Subramanian further said: “Aren’t these our children, who need to be protected from ourselves, from our instincts to hate and harm? These young, our college students, need to be nurtured, educated, and equipped to build the wealth and future that we want for our country.”

Last month, violence broke out after a protest march by students of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia ended in a pitched battle with the Delhi Police. Buses were set on fire, and several students and police officers were injured. The police were accused of using excessive force and even assaulting students. Police also entered the Aligarh Muslim University campus the same evening after a clash broke out between them and students. They baton-charged students and used tear gas shells on them.

Following this, protests against the amendments to the Citizenship Act and the alleged police brutality against the students swept campuses across India.