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Shunning politicisation of campuses, need of the hour

The JNU student politics is left-of-centre even though in recent years, right-wing student groups have also entered the field

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Since 2014, students have been under attack in India, especially the students of the JNU. This university is infused with an intense political life on the campus. Students who leave the campus are told to acquire a “permanently changed outlook on life” as a result of student politics. The politicisation of the campus life has led to a refusal to brush under the carpet social issues such as feminism, minority rights, social and economic justice. All such issues are debated fiercely in formal as well as informal gatherings. The JNU student politics is left-of-centre even though in recent years, right-wing student groups have also entered the field. Political involvement is “celebratory in spirit.” The student union elections are preceded by days of debates and meetings, keeping all students involved. The JNU has the reputation of an “unruly bastion of Marxist revolution.” However, the student activists deny the charge stating that the politics at JNU is issue-based and intellectual. The university is known for its alumni who now occupy important political and bureaucratic positions. In part, this is because of the prevalence of Left-Centric student politics and the existence of a written constitution of the university to which noted Communist Party of India leader Prakash Karat contributed exhaustively during his education at the JNU.

On October 24, 2008, the Supreme Court of India stayed the JNU elections and banned the JNUSU for not complying with the recommendations of the Lyngdoh committee. After a prolonged struggle and multi-party negotiations, the ban was lifted on December 8, 2011. After a gap of more than four years, interim elections were scheduled again on March 1, 2012. Following the election results declared on March 3, 2012, candidates of the All India Students Association (AISA) won all four central panel seats while Sucheta De, president of AISA became the president of JNUSU too. In April 2000, two army officers who disturbed an Indo-Pak mushaira at the JNU campus were beaten up by agitated students. The officers were angered by anti-war poems recited by two Pakistani poets and disrupted the mushaira. They were enraged at the recited lines of a poem by progressive Urdu poetess, Fahmida Riaz “Tum bhi bilkul hum jaise nikle” (“It turned out you were just like us”) and interpreted the lines as a criticism of India. One of them started to shout anti-Pakistan slogans. When the audience asked for silence, one of them pulled out a gun. They were overpowered by the security and then beaten up by students though they were not seriously injured. The Indian Army denied the charges and it was reported that the two army officers were admitted in hospitals. A retired judge was appointed to probe the accusation.

In 2015, the JNU Student’s Union and the All India Students Association objected to efforts to create instruction on Indian culture. Opposition to such courses was on the basis that such instruction was an attempt to saffronise education. Saffronisation refers to right-wing efforts to glorify ancient Hindu culture. The proposed courses were successfully opposed and were thus, “rolled back.” A former student of JNU and a former student union member Albeena Shakil, claimed that BJP officials in the government were responsible for proposing the controversial courses. Since 2014, BJP came to power with a huge mandate and ABVP became stronger than ever, that is how there are continuous attacks on the university. Students in the JNU are adults and very opinionated, they are doing research on social issues so they know what leads to what and also they practice democracy in their campus. They know what right ideology politics will lead to.

To understand the JNU row, we need to see the larger picture. Such controversies are not only in the JNU but also in other Universities like Jadavpur University, University of Hyderabad, AMU, Jamia Millia Islamia, Visva-Bharati and even in the DU. Taking such a round clock picture, it can be understood that an attack on JNU is a “systematic assault” under a well-choreographed intention. BJP is a party based on right wing ideology which has always been challenged by Marxian theory and JNU is indeed an institute dominated by Marxian/Leftist ideology. BJP is suffering from “One Nation-One culture” syndrome, whereas the JNU represents diverse Indian society in microscopic form. The violence on Sunday night at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is a blot for any democratic society.

For hours, goons from outside ran riot in the campus violently beating up students and teachers both men and women. Even as the violence was underway, a mob gathered at the main gate of the university inciting violence against JNU students and heckling and even beating up journalists and civil society activists. All this happened even as the police were present on the spot. The attack has taken the intimidation being meted out to JNU to a completely different level. This cycle started three years ago when the police arrested Kanhaiya Kumar, the JNUSU president and two others under charges of sedition. A charge sheet is yet to be filed in the case. Since then, JNU has faced constant vilification, intimidation and intermittent violence.

The latest in this series is the fee hike announced last year which has triggered massive protests both inside and outside the campus, so much so that the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) had to constitute a committee to talk to the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU). The Vice-Chancellor has not been talking to the students for a very long time now. The JNU administration’s statement on Sunday’s incidents is a cynical attempt to portray the anti-fee hike protesters as the villains behind the violence which is completely against the version of most students and teachers. While there can hardly be any engagement with the vilification and the violence and intimidation being meted out to the university, the argument for differential fee structure – charging those who can pay a higher fees – in higher educational institutions deserves to be countered. Anti-Hindu stand – If one looks at the rise of the Left in general, one can understand that the roots are strong anti-caste, anti-religious stand. Hindus in India were highly casteist and are still highly casteist. The system refuses to go and members of so called lower castes are harassed even now in some areas. So naturally for a party built on anti-caste stand, the dirt of caste system which is like a cancer to Hindus is a big reason for hatred. Modiji declares himself as a Hindu nationalist and many Leftists would naturally feel against someone who talks like that.

India is a land of several social issues. There are unhappy people in every state who have myriad of social, economic issues that governments have failed to be addressed or have been ignored. Naturally, people protest against all this. JNU or for that matter anyone in India has the freedom to sympathise with the struggle and lend vocal support to the thing. But then, sometimes in any protest, there are people who can’t control their emotions and indulge in over the top comments and slogans. It depends on the individual whether one believes the tapes that came out of JNU as original or doctored. But either ways, BJP tried to suppress it by force. And at the same time, high profile leaders like the Home Minister openly announced that the protests were seditious in nature. A lot of hatred was generated due to this in social media. Things turned so bad that when you googled “anti-national”, Google maps showed JNU’s address. JNU students might feel that they are badly branded. And a large share of blame goes to the way the government handled the whole scenario. Moreover, a government tries to suppress a protest; more is the feeling that someone is targeting them unfairly. One should remember that the more one tries to suppress protests or certain actions, it only gets dirty. Using excessive force sometimes works against and only fuels more hatred.

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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