By Daljit Ami
24 February, 2016
The President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union being arrested on sedition charges highlights the issues between educational institutions and the current government. JNU is well known for its varied activities and debates. This university is known to have asked tough questions of past governments and is known to have taken those questions from educational institutions to public forums. Over the past decades, the university has defined, examined and re-examined layer after layer of ideas such as socialism, equality and social justice.
The institute have unequivocaly opposed the divisive politics, violence, development totaltarianism and caste-class exploitation. The openness of this institute has allowed space to air all kinds of thoughts and ideas and keeps open the possibility of questioning each of those ideas. The university has remained a platform from where one can observe, understand and examine society through all kinds of philosophical frameworks. The institute has time and again established that political and other philosophies are not the property of any one political party. In fact, understanding the society and state with reference of citizenryand environment is a constant endeavour.
For a while now this institute has been on the radar of the current central government and the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh. On earlier instances too the government and the RSS has declared the university to be anti-national, den of terrorists, jihadis, naxalites and opposers of Hindus. There have been efforts to plant people from the Hindutva ideology at responsible posts and as the head of research and academic institutions and JNU is no exception. The same intention has led to the appointment of the Chairpersonof the Film and Television Institute of India, in the scraping the non-NET fellowships of the research scholars of central universities and the nominations and sackings of the heads of other research institutes. The current crisis is part of this sequence of events. We need to understand two aspects of this program: facts and ideologies.
On the third anniversary of Afzal Guru’s hanging, some students of JNU had given a call for a meeting at Sabarmati Dhabha. They had stuck posters regarding the meeting at important places in the university. The organizers of the meeting did not belong to any group so they printed their names on the posters. The university administration had given its permission for the meeting in writing but half an hour before the event the permission was withdrawan through an SMS. As per the tradition of openness in the university all the students organizations in the university agreed to lend their support to the meeting. The only student organization that objected to the meeting by holding its own meeting in parallel was the Bhartiya Janta Party’s student wing the Akil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). Both meeting could hear each other’s slogans. When the original meeting concluded in a march the ABVP tried to stop the marching students. It led to a clash in which both groups shouted slogans against each other.
A few facts bear attention. Jawaharlal Nehru Unuversity Student Union’s (JNUSU) President neither made the call for the event nor was the organiser of the event. He participated in the event as an advocate of ‘freedom of speech’. He belongs to the oldest organization in India’s student politics – the All India Students Federation (AISF). The AISF played a leading role in India’s freedom struggle and has shaped many important leaders. The organization is student wing of the Communist Party of India(CPI). The CPI functions within the limits drawn by the Indian Constitution. Kanhaiya Kumar follows the same line of argument in his February 10 speech against the events of the previous night. He made his speech in a meeting of various organizations and JNUSU where they were protesting against the BJP’s vicious politics in student campuses. On the same February 10 the ABVP organized a protest in front of the Vice-Chancellor’s office in which they demanded that the university take action against those indulging in sloganeering against the nation the previous night. Police have arrested Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges.
When the police produced Kanhaiya Kumar in court, first plainclothes people threatened the students and the teachers who had gone there in his support and then goons wearing lawyer cloaks attacked them. They also attacked media and journalists. Earlier pictures of these attackers’ proximity with home minister and other leaders of the BJP are out in media. There has been no action against them. BJP’s MLA OP Sharma was arrested and released on bail.
On February 13 the police arrested seven artists and students who were on their way to the Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts. The police said these people ‘looked’ like students of JNU because they had beards and were carrying cloth bags on their shoulders.
The home minister, Rajnath Singh claimed that Hafiz Sayeed had supported the program for Afzal Guru in JNU. Hafiz Sayeed later debunked the claim. Rajnath Singh reframed his statement factually but his intent remained same. The ABVP has been consistently calling the Left students activists as terrorists, Naxalites and jihadis. Now the BJP government has made JNU their target. They want to disrupt JNU’s democratic traditions and open atmosphere. This is because they see a clash between their blind nationalism and such spaces of enquiry.
The current fracas could have erupted in other ways too. The BJP was waiting for a chance since they changed the Vice-Chancellor of the university. There have been instances in the past where they have considered every complaint by their student group ABVP as the last word. The evidence of pressure on the Vice Chancellor of the Central University of Hyderabad by central ministers is in front of all of us. After Rohith Vemula’s suicide that matter had gone out of BJP’s control. The same way upon complaint by the ABVP the Panjab University had to struggle to get its grants released and found difficult to meet the salary budget.
Normally the police cannot enter the JNU campus.This freedom is considered an integral part of the ethos of the institution. During Emergency the university had strongly resisted the police. Normally mattersare sorted through dialogue. The pitch of these dialogues is often very sharp yet the university has been one of the most peaceful and non-violent spaces in the nation. The current VC of JNU Jagadish Kumar has given the police permission to enter the premises ‘if need be and as you may deem fit’. What does this unconditionalpermission mean? It is clear that the government has certain designs on the educational institutions – while ABVP continue to raise the pitch of ultra-nationalism by invoking the Indian armies, the BJP installed VC gives permission to police to enter the campuses. Is this not an attempt to turn the nation into a police state? Is this not an attempt for regimentationof an open and free space?
This attack on freedoms links to the scrapping of fellowships to students. These fellowships were a major and only support to students – dalits, poor, tribals and of remote areas – who occupy the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder. The fellowship is a chance for them to enter the portals of higher education and experience the openness of education and growth. The state supported capitalismand intolerant hindu jingoism cannot tolerate that someone questions them on issues of social justice. They cannot tolerate that some KanhaiyaKumar studies and calls for the end of brahminical culture and dreams of revolution. They cannot tolerate that a Rohith Vemula rises above indignity and injustices and seeks to ‘love without getting hurt.’ That is why it is important to understand the character of attack on JNU.
Isn’t it an agression by intolerant brahminism and crony capitalism on openness and justices of educational institutes under the garb of development? It won’t be wrong to assert that Kanhiaya Kumar has really been arrested for not agreeing to become ‘reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind.’
Bio: I am an independent filmmaker from Punjab and have made about a dozen documentary films on different issues of Punjab. I have worked as freelance journalist for about two decades. I have worked with Punjabi Tribune, Day and Night News and BBC Hindi. Recently I have translated Amandeep Sandhu’s novel Roll of Honour from English to Punjabi as Gwah De Fanah Hon Toh Pehilan.
Amandeep Sandhu has translated the article from Punjabi and is working on a non-fiction on Punjab.