by Sandeep Pandey — January 15, 2020
Educational Institutions are meant to be places of learning and authorities managing them are expected to provide a liberal space where diversity of ideas can exist. Of course, this ideal is present at very few places but Jawaharlal Nehru University, before the Modi government came to power was one such place of international standing in India. It was comparable to the best institutions in the West in terms of their academic freedom, rigour and diversity. Campus violence is not uncommon but mostly it has to do with clashes between student groups, based on ideological grounds, right to access some privileges or simple caste lines in India. Banaras Hindu University has seen a series of violent incidents in the ‘80s and before, when every time the University would have to be closed down sine die, until the University decided to discontinue holding Students’ Union elections sometime in mid-80s. There is no problem with constituting Students Unions according to the Lyngdoh committee recommendations but not all Vice Chancellors have the confidence to handle student politics.
Compared to all the anarchy and violence which Indian campuses have seen, the State sponsored rowdyism of the kind we saw at JNU on the evening on 5 January, 2020 is a new low, as if what the Bhartiya Janata Party government has done since 2014 to tamper with the finest intellectual traditions of this University was already not enough. If this is BJP’s way of controlling University campuses or the society is general then we might as well say goodbye to the idea of liberty of thought and fundamental right of freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution of this country. It is inconceivable that the VC Professor M. Jagadesh Kumar, would call a band of masked youth, most likely belonging to Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, rather than use his campus security or police to control students even if he was inclined to use force. What kind of mindset is this? He has used lumpen elements to counter his students. Is he fighting some kind of gang war with his students and imagines himself to be a mafia? It is also strange that a few days back when police had to enter Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University campuses they didn’t bother to take permission of the respective VCs but at JNU they were waiting to receive VC’s permission while hoodlums were on rampage inside the campus. It shows VCs complicity with the criminals, not a single of whom has been arrested in times when we have CCTV cameras and all kinds of technological devices to identify people. Clearly, it is brazen use of his powers. That he comes from Indian Institute of Technology campus next door is a disgrace to the IIT community as well. Is this the vision of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh of how Gurus should deal with their dissenting students? If the VC Girish Chandra Tripathi was asked to go on permanent leave after he used police to lathi charge protesting girl students at BHU main gate a few years back on an issue of sexual harassment on campus, there is no reason why Jagadesh Kumar should stay. His crime is much bigger and simply unpardonable.
The nature of violence at JNU can be linked to pattern of violence recently seen in Uttar Pradesh against the anti Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens protests. Masked miscreants, unidentified youth in Lucknow probably brought from outside and BJP/RSS workers in Muzaffarnagar directed by the local Member of Parliament Sanjeev Baliyan, have indulged in arson, vandalism, etc. which was all blamed on protestors and First Information Reports were filed against innocent people. The UP Chief Minister also declared that cost of damage to public property would be recovered from people who destroyed them. In UP it was assumed the people against whom FIRs were registered were the ones who destroyed the properties. But in JNU it is clear who caused destruction. Should not the cost of damage to property in JNU be recovered from ABVP or the VC himself whose involvement is beyond doubt on certain counts? This will also act as a deterrence to any group in future who would think of indulging in vandalism.
Just as victims of vandalism and police atrocities were made the accused in UP, it was the JNU Students’ Union President Aishe Ghosh and her colleagues, who suffered the violence, against whom FIR has been filed. Although all government are known to do this but in BJP government’s rule it is the norm – to make the victim as accused. Aishe Ghosh, who was specially targeted and hit very badly in the head has come out with the most mature statement in the entire controversy. She said every stick or rod will be countered with debate. The VC and BJP leaders should learn from her on what an academic campus should be like? She would have made a better VC than Jagadesh Kumar. The problem with RSS is they talk of lofty ideals but do not have competent people.
Sandeep Pandey is Vice President, Socialist Party (India)
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