JNU’s journey from ‘prestigious’ to ‘anti-national’

The university has made its presence felt on the national political stage with a series of protests over various issues

Published - December 29, 2016 01:10 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Jawaharlal Nehru University made it to the headlines for a better part of the year, but for all the wrong reasons. According to Twitter’s year-end trends, #JNU was the 10th most popular hashtag.

In February, the university was branded “anti national” after three students were arrested on charges of sedition. Once the “sedition row” died down with the matter going to court, MSc. student Najeeb Ahmed disappeared from campus on October 15, following an alleged altercation with ABVP members.

More than 70 days later, Najeeb remains untraced. The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) and the administration, meanwhile, continue to be at loggerheads on several issues.

Campus on boil

On February 9, a section of students had organised an event on campus to commemorate the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.

Permission was cancelled for the event, which drew a large number of people from outside the campus. The event allegedly saw anti-national slogans being raised, which ultimately led to the arrest of three students, who were then booked for sedition. Those arrested included JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya. They were later granted bail.

Responding to these events, the university rose in protest. The “StandWithJNU” movement received support from outside the university as well and carried on for a couple of months. In fact, students also went on a hunger strike against the report of a high-level inquiry committee, which found 21 students guilty of indiscipline and imposed punishments ranging from fine to rustication.

The students challenged these punishments in the High Court, after which an appellate committee was formed. What followed was classes on “nationalism” by teachers and guest speakers belonging to different ideologies.

Not just this, questions were raised - including in Parliament - about the university being a waste of taxpayers’ money and how liberal-thinking students were branded “anti-national” for debating on issues of social justice, gender equality and government policies.

No space for dissent

The university administration issued a number of show cause notices to students for carrying out protests on campus. After issuing appeals against organising protests outside the Admin Block, the university barricaded the spot used for sit-in protests and hunger strikes. Plants were placed on the stairs leading to the offices so that students would be unable to use the space for agitations.

Union elections

In September, the students’ union elections saw two prominent Left parties — AISA and SFI — coming together to ensure that no candidate from the ABVP was elected. The AISF, of which Kanhaiya Kumar is a member, later opted out of the alliance sighting sectarian differences within the Left, but did not field a candidate. The election also saw the rise of the Bisra Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA) as an alternative on the Left-dominated campus. The party’s candidate, although defeated by the Left alliance, managed to win the support of minority students.

Najeeb goes missing

In October, the JNUSU demanded that the administration file a written complaint with the Delhi Police and take action against the students who were involved in a scuffle with Najeeb. Students, in fact, confined the Vice-Chancellor and other members of the administration to the office block for over 20 hours. The JNUSU also called for protests both inside and outside the campus, demanding a thorough investigation to trace Najeeb. According to the JNUSU, the administration and the Delhi Police were being lackadaisical in their approach.

The year ended with the administration calling an Academic Council meeting during the Christmas break, which was criticised by teachers as “undemocratic”, thanks to decisions like increasing the weightage given to interviews, which were allegedly passed without proper discussion. Also, eight students were suspended for protesting, and later barging in, when the meeting was in progress.

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