Onam poster reflected ‘political manipulation’ of festival: JNU

Updated - November 10, 2023 02:45 am IST

Published - November 10, 2023 01:51 am IST - New Delhi

A depiction of king Mahabali draped in the colours of the Palestinian flag on the poster of the event “Onam of Solidarity” seems to be the reason behind the JNU administration denying students permission to hold the programme at the Convention Centre on campus on Thursday.

A subdued programme was later held near Sabarmati Hostel, including a cultural event and a feast.

The university administration in a post on its official social media handle called the poster a “political manipulation of a festival”.

The poster for the event in question was shared by the JNU Onam Committee, an elected body of students, on October 31.

The poster has “Onam of Solidarity” as the header in both English and Malayalam and depicts Mahabali, who is associated with the festival, wearing a black mundu (garment worn around the waist) with a white, green, and red border.

The JNU Onam Committee in a statement said, “The Onam cultural evening and Onasadhya (a feast) we booked for November 9 in the Convention Centre was cancelled by the administration arbitrarily citing the reason that Onam is a religious festival.”

“We disagree with such an interpretation of our State festival. We condemn this anti-South Indian, anti-Kerala discrimination against our community,” the statement added.

In a statement on its official social media handles, the JNU administration said Onam was celebrated in August.

“The first poster released (by the student body) was a political manipulation of a festival. The JNU administration is secular and all so-called cultural festivals cannot be celebrated long after they are over. The later version (of posters) was for a food festival. All posters changed. No letter was sent to the Vice Chancellor for permission,” it said.

Tharoor backs students

The students’ body received support from Thiruvananthapuram Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. “If JNU has blocked the Onam celebrations by Keralite students on the campus, as some reports allege, that is a hugely retrograde step,” he said in a post on X.

“Onam is a magnificent secular festival celebrating equality, prosperity and coexistence, which belongs to Malayalis of all faiths. JNU should be encouraging such celebrations, not banning them,” he said.

“They showcase the best of our culture rather than the bigotry and communal prejudice that masquerades as Bharatiyata these days,” he added.

The JNU’s official handle on X responded to the MP, saying “half truths need to be verified and condemned, not glorified”.

The students claimed that they had paid ₹21,000 to book the venue and had submitted a detailed minute-by-minute itinerary of the programme.

It included two lectures, honouring of Malayali workers of the university, folk song and dance performances.

The event was to end with a feast. On being questioned why they had chosen to celebrate the festival in November, the students said Onam festivities could not be conducted earlier as the university was closed for the summer break during the festival time.

Several political organisations within the university issued statements condemning the administration’s move and showed solidarity with the JNU Onam Committee.

The Congress’ student wing NSUI said, “We can’t let the administration dictate how to celebrate our festivals, nor will be allow the egalitarian, secular spirit of Onam to be destroyed.”

The SFI said the JNU administration has been complicit in conducting several religious events at the Convention Centre and across the JNU campus initiated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

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