Comment

JNU, truly national

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The institution is a microcosm of India, where the poorest and the brightest arrive to chase their ambitions.

The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)’s place is only one notch below Pakistan’s in the majoritarian propaganda that keeps a section of India’s middle class and media in its grips. The vicious diatribe against JNU portrays the institution as a den of left extremism that produces ‘useless social scientists’; its students are considered ‘anti-national parasites’ living off taxpayers’ money. But, these calumnies collapse at the faintest touch with fact and logic.

It is not left extremist

JNU is indeed a left-dominated campus but the fringe, radical left elements have never been dominant, nor have they ever secured many votes in student elections. Major left outfits such as the Students’ Federation of India and the All India Students Association have traditionally won elections by garnering a third each of the total student votes. The RSS-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) too has a decent cadre base. All these groups represent politics that believe in democracy. These student wings fight the battle of ideas and hardly ever try to settle scores through force. Radical left groups usually get a couple of hundred votes. These factors make JNU a unique place. So, the allegation that the institution is a ‘Maoist den’ is blatantly false.

Far from encouraging ‘anti-national’ ideologies, JNU celebrates India’s rich values of mutual respect and unity. It is a template for national integration, where people from various castes, regions, religions and genders live together in harmony. An upper-caste Brahmin from the city may have the son of a manual scavenger from the village as a roommate. And it is a huge learning experience for both. Overall, only 5% of Indians marry outside their caste, but among the JNU community, the percentage is substantially higher. From my own batch, nearly half of us married outside our caste, religion or region.

 

Builds empathetic citizens

The university broadens your mind and makes you challenge things that you might have taken for granted. It is a university where the majority of learning takes place outside the walls of the classroom — in dhabas over multiple cups of tea till late at night; in post-dinner meetings; and, most importantly, in lived experiences. One learns to debate, discuss and agree to disagree but without resorting to violence. Even right-wing groups like the ABVP speak up for their fellow students who come from less-privileged backgrounds, contrary to the tone adopted by their political masters.

Hindus and Muslims, Sikhs and Christians come together to observe Deepavali, Durga Puja, Bihu, Lohri, Onam, Pongal and Id. Where else would a Northeast festival provide one with a peek into the otherwise stereotyped region? The institution promotes sensitivity to other cultures and, in particular, it creates sensitivity towards the underprivileged in a manner that no other educational institution can. The cause of national integration would be served better by several more JNU-like institutions across the country and not by running down the best that we have.

Tax money well spent

The best minds of India have been helped by its public education system. But for the public funding, most people in India cannot afford any education, let alone higher education. Within that spectrum some institutions serve as benchmarks — from the Navodaya Vidyalayas to the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Management and a handful of social science institutions such as the JNU.

JNU students clear a highly competitive national entrance exam. A huge majority of them have nothing but ambition and willingness to work hard — like me, son of a farmer who could barely feed his six children and could not even afford my school education. It was my uncle who supported my early education. After graduation, like all youngsters from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, I had dreams of joining the civil services. I worked for two years to sustain myself before I applied to JNU. And against all normal odds I got through, thanks to its affirmative admissions policy.

The JNU‘s admissions policy empowers those belonging to the deprived sections. The measures are not dependent on caste alone — they are also based on gender and the backwardness of one’s resident district. Coming from very modest and rural backgrounds, scores of India’s poor children become the country’s brightest bureaucrats, best academic minds, activists and journalists. Students also return to small towns and spread the high quality learning to the hinterland. Yes, taxpayers do pay for JNU. But, it is also true that you will hardly find a JNU product who is not a direct taxpayer.

‘Why do we need philosophers and thinkers?’ This is a classic fascist question being thrown to run JNU down yet again. JNU’s biggest contribution to India is that its students have equipped themselves with a certain empathy about what this vast country is all about. The institution is a microcosm of India. It is India. We need to hold it close to our hearts, regardless of our taxpayer status.

Chandan Yadav is a former JNU student and currently Secretary, All India Congress Committee

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 6:07:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/jnu-truly-national/article30030145.ece

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