Backed by teachers, the students are protesting the recent punishments levied on Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and others
The second phase of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students’ protest is underway. Or as Anirban Bhattacharya, who along with Umar Khalid has been rusticated and fined, put it, “What began as a student spring, it is going to enter into a student summer. And it’s going to be pretty hot.”
The students are gearing up for the long fight ahead. The JNU Students Union (JNUSU) has initiated an indefinite hunger strike, from 9 pm on Wednesday, April 27. This is in response to the “absurd punishments” that the High Level Enquiry Committee (HLEC) levied upon students and ex-students earlier this week, after investigating the February 9, 2016 event on campus during which “anti-national slogans” were raised.
The HLEC has fined and rusticated three students — Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and a Kashmiri student Mujeeb Gattoo. Khalid and Gattooare facing rustication for one and two semesters respectively (along with a Rs 20,000 fine for Khalid). Bhattacharya appears to have been meted out the harshest punishment: he has been rusticated till July 15. After July 23, he will be declared out of bounds for a period of five years. He will be allowed to submit his PhD thesis during this period.
A total of 14 students including JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, general secretary Rama Naga, ex- president Ashutosh Kumar, and joint-secretary Saurabh Sharma (from ABVP), have been asked to pay fines ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000. Two former JNU students, Draupadi Ghosh and Banojyotsna Lahiri, have also been restricted from entering the campus premises for five years.
The JNU Teachers Association (JNUTA) has come out strongly in support of the students. Its president, Ajay Patnaik, spoke to the gathered students on Tuesday evening and JNUTA secretary Bikramaditya Choudhary read out a letter condemning the administration’s decision. They have submitted the letter to the Vice Chancellor. Professor Ayesha Kidwai said, “We think that the process has been completely perverted.” Speculating about options for redressal, she said, “We will only go to the courts if the administration is not good to us.”
On Tuesday evening, the mood was particularly defiant at JNU. Kanhaiya Kumar, speaking to the press at the so-called “Freedom Square” reiterated his rejection of the HLEC and questioned the timing of the orders being made public. According to him, the JNU administration intentionally released these orders right before exams to minimise any resistance. JNUSU vice-president Shehla Rashid pointed out that for JNU students who pay a fee of Rs 250 per semester, the imposition of Rs 10,000 or Rs 20,000 fines creates a “chilling effect.” She also accused the Modi government of “fighting a proxy war through their puppets.”
Meanwhile, Khalid and Bhattacharya were present among the gathered crowd and alternated between speaking to friends and reporters. Khalid called HLEC’s decision “absolutely outrageous”.
“We weren’t given the chance to depose [before the committee],” he said. “All principles of natural justice were flouted. The enquiry was done in our absence. We were handed down notices in jail, saying that ‘you’re found guilty’.”
Khalid pointed out that after receiving death threats, he’d asked the university for security but his plea was ignored. “I’ve sent letters to the administration saying ‘give me security’ and they’ve given me this,” he said, referring to the HLEC orders. According to him, accepting the orders would be questioning his own political commitment. “We’ve done no wrong,” he said. “We’re not criminals. It’s our constitutional right to have political opinions.”
A few minutes after speaking to me, Khalid returned looking for a lighter. Being the unusually generous person I am, I obliged. Not expecting to get it back and not thinking much about what Khalid may use it for, I caught up with Bhattacharya, whose punishment has been the most severe. He, however, felt that it was “as arbitrary as anyone else’s” and reiterated Khalid’s point of the HLEC being “absolutely illogical and arbitrary.” He said he saw a similarity in the situation at Hyderabad Central University (HCU), Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and JNU.
Amongst the numerous charges levelled at him and a few other students by the HLEC is that of “arousing communal and caste feelings”. He wasn’t surprised, “Rohith Vemula was also called casteist,” he pointed out. “You speak against caste, you’re casteist. You speak against Brahminism, you’re casteist. You speak against Muzaffarnagar, you’re communal. And all those doing the riots are really secular.”
In the middle of these conversations, something caught my eye. Wielding my lighter, Khalid and a few other students had set copies of the HLEC orders on fire. Not exactly the same feeling as Dr BR Ambedkar burning the Manu Smriti, but by sheer accident, I may have facilitated the ‘spark’ that reignited the ‘dormant’ JNU revolution.
Newslaundry tried to contact Prof Rakesh Bhatnagar who was a part of the HLEC, but he was unavailable for comment. This post will be updated if and when he responds.http://www.newslaundry.com/2016/04/27/jnu-students-reignite-revolutionary-fire/