Pheroze L. Vincent

(From left) Sarojini Devi, Ramlakhan Ram, their fasting daughter and JNU student Chintu Kumari and fellow student leader Shehla Rashid. Picture by Pheroze L. Vincent

New Delhi, May 13: Sarojini Devi and Ramlakhan Ram looked different from the 12 hunger strikers at JNU today.

Ram had a frayed gamchha across his torn shirt collar and Sarojini her head covered by a sari. They sat in solidarity with their fasting daughter Chintu Kumari – till the 16-day-old hunger strike was called off around 10pm on a prod from Delhi High Court.

Just two of the 20 students who had begun the fast on April 28 had continued till today; the remaining 10 had joined in over the past fortnight.

The two were Chintu, former general secretary of the students’ union, and Anant Narayan, its former vice-president. Both are from the CPIML Liberation-backed All India Students Association; both are Dalits.

“When newspapers printed her picture after she became a student leader here, people in Arrah couldn’t believe that a Dalit’s daughter was in JNU and had won an election,” Ram said. “People from all classes celebrated in our district.”

Ram worked in thread factories at Delhi’s Okhla industrial area in the 1990s before joining Liberation. He moved back home to Kaulodihri in Arrah in 2007 to work as a party whole-timer.

Ram and Sarojini, both day labourers, ensured that Chintu studied in Delhi throughout. She graduated in political science from Delhi University in 2011 and is now doing her PhD on a Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship.

The hunger strike, probably JNU’s longest, ended after the high court granted interim relief to the 19 students punished for a February 9 campus protest against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.

Examining a batch of eight petitions, Justice Manmohan ordered that no punishments would be carried out until vice-chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar had acted on students’ appeals against the action.

If Kumar rejects their petitions, the students will have two weeks to appeal to the court – provided they withdrew the strike today and engaged in no further “strike or dharna or agitation or coercive action” on the issue before the court decided it.

After almost two hours of discussions between students’ groups on campus, the protesters ended the fast with mango juice and coconut water. They have been advised to eat soft food for the next few days.

“JNU should be a normal place with no journalists hanging around there,” Justice Manmohan had said. It’s unclear whether reporters would be stopped at the gates.

The university had rusticated three students, expelled two from their hostels and fined 14 others. Chintu had been fined Rs 20,000.

Chintu said feebly this afternoon: “My parents haven’t even asked me to end my strike. They’re just here to give me strength but from their faces I know they’re worried and scared.”

Sarojini said: “We’ve fought for our rights for years in Bhojpur. Chintu and her friends will defend their rights too. I’m here because I couldn’t sit quietly when my daughter was starving.”