The JNU administration is using a threat to kill students’ academic records to ensure they buckle down.
In all abduction scenes on film, the abductee is picked up and silenced with duct tape. But in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar has utilised academic red tape to stifle and crush activism by students. Since October 2016, several JNU students have been served notices of enquiries against them. Importantly, student leaders claim the crackdown on activism on the campus which started in the form of ordering proctorial enquiries, has reached yet another landmark: Their academics.
“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming,” a JNU student quoted Pablo Neruda while addressing an odd gathering of 25-30 students outside the administration block on Monday. On July 13 through a “most urgent” notice, the university blocked the “academic process” of 14 students as they were found guilty in enquiries conducted by the university and hadn’t complied with the punishment ordered. The students had assembled to burn copies of this order.
Four of the 14 students whose “academic process” has been blocked are the JNU students’ union (JNUSU) representatives – Mohit K Pandey (President), Amal PP (Vice-President), Satarupa Chakraborty (General Secretary), Tabrez Hasan (Joint Secretary). JNU scholar Umar Khalid’s name features sixth on the list, while Students’ Federation of India (SFI)’s G Suresh’s name was in the fifth. BAPSA’s Magare Bhupali Vitthal has been penalised. These very students were the ones who had left no stone unturned to ensure the VC Kumar doesn’t get a sense of relief even for a day. Their activism on the campus brewed trouble for the university administration right from the “illegal confinement” of JNU officials to a series of protests over the missing Najeeb Ahmed. The latest protests were over University Grants Commission’s (UGC) cutting JNU research seats by half.
Blocking the academic process means unless they comply with the University punishment they are blocked from availing any university facility – apart from the hostels. Importantly, their semester registration will be held up. Considering all these students are research scholars of either MPhil or PhD, such a decision poses a grave threat to their career. “They have brought us to the verge where we will have to pay the fine in order to save our research work,” a JNU research student said.
Since February 2016, JNU has been swimming in unrest with Vice-chancellor Kumar’s tenure marred with controversies surrounding the campus. Be it the sedition case against former JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar and his brigade or the disappearance of Najeeb, the student community here has found the VC of being least help.
Here’s how some individuals are being targeted
Umar Khalid: The JNU research scholar, who is in the final stage of his Ph.D., claimed that, in the past year, four enquiry committees have been ordered against him. He was found guilty in the “illegal confinement” of VC Kumar on October 19 during the protest for Najeeb. Khalid was awarded a fine of Rs 20,000 and hostel transfer. The action against him and others ordered by the High-Level Enquiry Committee (HLEC), formed to enquire into the alleged “anti-national” sloganeering at JNU, has not been executed as the matter is sub-judice in the Delhi High Court.
Beyond these, other enquiries were ordered against him related to protests in the campus. “I am not the only one. There might be around 30-35 activists against whom there are enquiries,” Khalid told Newslaundry. “This is a concentrated attempt to intimidate, to harass student activists – to ensure that student activism breaks down. This is what this vice-chancellor has been doing in JNU – attempting to break the students’ movement and break dissent.”
Even though Khalid had paid the fine in the “illegal confinement” case to get his registration done – he is exploring legal options.
JNUSU President Mohit K Pandey: According to Pandey, it is a systematic attack by the Kumar-led administration on students’ activism. “They want to intimidate students through a systematic crackdown on students.” The fears held by leaders such as Pandey has already started becoming true. The JNU administration has banned any demonstration in front of the Ad block – once renamed the Azadi square –after the release of former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar in the February 9 case. During June 17, only a small number of students had turned up. Reason? Common students would be wary of getting a proctorial enquiry slapped on them. Also, the chances of this become higher in smaller gatherings.
Around eight enquiries have been ordered against Pandey and two first information reports (FIRs) have been registered. He too has been fined Rs 20, 000 and hostel transfer in the “the illegal confinement” case. However, Pandey appears in no mood to comply with the administration. “As a students’ representative, was it not my responsibility to lead a fight for the missing student Najeeb?” he argued.
The enquiries initiated against him include protesting in the Library for opposing the invitation to Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javedekar. The notice served to Pandey reads, “You were involved in a protest demonstration and disruption of the event/ programme being organised to rename JNU Central Library.”
While “disruption” could be a valid ground to initiate an enquiry, why does the administration zero-in on only the protests? It clearly shows that, according to the administration, any protest by students in JNU amounts to an offence.
“We at JNU carry our activism along with academics. There is a constant effort to harass and punish us so that we leave activism. That is why they are targeting our academics,” Pandey told Newslaundry.
“Nowhere in the proctorial rules, there is mention of clauses under which they can block our registration. Even then they are doing it so that those raising a voice of dissent and involved in students’ politics get intimidated,” Pandey said.
Another enquiry in which Pandey has been accused that he “physically stopped the installation of CCTV camera” is going on, and a second notice was served on July 10. The same day he was served notice for the proctorial enquiry in relation to Academic Council (AC) meeting held on June 16. He has been alleged to have been “unruly, irresponsible during the 143rd AC meeting” and used “unparliamentary language pointing fingers towards some members of AC”. The complaint also mentioned that he had “indulged in videography of the proceedings without permission of the chair”. Incidentally, the ruckus between AC members was widely reported in the media.
Best of all, an enquiry was initiated against Pandey as he was accused of “shouting slogans against the VC” on June 27 and he “forcefully sat inside the VC office till 9.45” in the night. Pandey claimed that he had gone to seek appointment of the VC Kumar and when he didn’t get one – he refused to leave without meeting the VC.
It is like an investigation being initiated against those who raise slogans against a chief minister or the prime minister of the country. Pandey claimed the scholarship money has been also blocked by the university.
Satarupa Chakraborty: Four enquiries have been ordered against the JNUSU secretary and SFI member Chakraborty. While she was also fined with Rs 20,000 and hostel transfer in the confinement case, an FIR was lodged against her in the CCTV case. Besides the confinement case, the other three enquiries include protest against CCTV installation, seeking appointment of the VC and ruckus at the AC meeting. The allegations are the same as in Pandey’s case.
“The enquiry includes the recent suspension which happened after the AC meeting. We [JNUSU office-bearers] were harassed at the AC meeting and then suspended JNUSU office-bearers,” Chakraborty said.
The Ph.D. scholar alleged that these enquiry committees work with premeditated judgments and the entire process has several loopholes. In the case where they were fined, Chakraborty said, “The appellate authority didn’t even call us once for deposition. It was formed just to punish us. Our synopsis, presentation [Ph.D.] – everything is under threat.” Her scholarship money has been blocked by the JNU. She further added, “It basically poses a threat to our studentship [at JNU].”
G Suresh: The SFI activist is a Ph.D. scholar at JNU. His “academic process” has been blocked as he has not paid the fine in the confinement case. Suresh is likely to go for a global students exchange programme in September. However, it is solely dependent on whether JNU clears him or not. Under the present circumstances, the chances of this appear bleak. “I have to apply to the International Collaboration Office (ICO) for an exchange programme. The application for this is not being processed until I comply with the punishment,” Suresh told Newslaundry. The JNU’s ICO provides funds to the students selected for international exchange programmes.
Notably, the students had “confined” the JNU VC when Najeeb had disappeared after an alleged scuffle with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) members. In November 2016, ABVP member Vikrant Kumar was found guilty of assaulting Najeeb.
“Some students who were found guilty of hitting Najeeb were only given punishment of hostel transfer. But those demanding justice for Najeeb had to face such severe punishment,” said Suresh.
Amal PP and JNUSU joint secretary Tabrez Hasan are facing similar punishment in the above-mentioned enquiry. While an FIR was filed against Amal in the CCTV case, Hasan is facing enquiry in the AC meeting ruckus incident. Their scholarship money has been blocked by the university along with the registration process.
Meanwhile, four students including Bhupali (BAPSA) and Khalid have paid the fine, others are looking for legal remedies to deal with the punishments. While Chakraborty said complying with punishment should not be misinterpreted as surrender, it is rather an attempt to save their studentship on the campus so that they continue to carry out their activism.
When a student sees his or her research work of years under threat due to enquiries, they have no options but to comply with orders, argued Pandey. “The fine is being taken under duress.”
However, for those like Pandey, complying with the punishment is not an option as students’ representatives “have seven to eight enquiries against them and paying a fine in every case is beyond question”.
“An environment of fear is being created where students can’t speak,” Pandey added.
Despite repeated attempts to reach out to Chief Proctor Vibha Tondon, Newslaundry failed to get any response. We will update this story if and when she responds.
The JNU administration has turned the ad block into a step garden to prevent protests. It had converted the area near ad block into a jail-like structure last year. Filing a series of investigations against students, slapping financial as well as academic punishment appears to be aimed at silencing dissent. The JNU VC might have students on the backfoot but shouldn’t the student representatives and activists raise issues related to student affairs on the campus? What good would any university achieve by targeting research scholars to deter protests? In short, the new strategy at JNU appears to be – attack academics to crush activism! With rolls and rolls of red tape.