We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the arbitrary, unconstitutional, and anti-democratic actions of the BJP/RSS/ABVP/Delhi Police continuum at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus. We demand an immediate end to all police action on campus, a withdrawal of all frivolous charges against the President of JNU Students’ Union, Kanhaiya Kumar, and other students, as well as an end to the campaign of harassment and intimidation against students at the university.
We believe that these actions by the Indian state and its associated groups and institutions are part of a larger campaign to stifle dissenting voices in the country, especially on university campuses which have persistently resisted the capitalist, Brahmanical hegemony of the current government. This was clearly evident in the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD student at Hyderabad Central University (HCU) last month. The similarity of the modus operandi in Hyderabad and Delhi is striking: Rohith and his comrades had been accused of ‘anti-national’ activities for their condemnation of the hanging of Yakub Memon, and suspended from their academic positions on these undemocratic grounds. Similar charges have been framed against the students of JNU for organizing an event in solidarity with the struggle of Kashmiri people for their right to self-determination. To make matters murkier, it is now certain that at the event, which also marked the third anniversary of the execution of Afzal Guru, the ABVP was involved in raising the controversial slogans that are being cited to justify the sedition charge. We are of the firm opinion that protesting against state violence is a fundamental right that must not become vulnerable to arbitrary violation by governments, police and university administrations.
We believe that the colonial-era laws of sedition — already diluted and read down by the Supreme Court — are an embarrassment to India’s democratic principles. The criminalization of dissent in this case reveals how India’s current political leadership has been unable to respect diversity and guarantee the full legal rights of its people. Its political program imagines the citizen as upper caste, heterosexual, male, Hindu; its economic program necessitates a blind faith in neoliberalism; and its social program continually imagines an enemy – the Muslim, the Dalit, the Left. It is not surprising that a government so debilitated and blinkered by its ideological narrowness has invoked the charge of sedition and sent police forces into the JNU campus, an action reminiscent of the worst years of Emergency.
We are also distressed by views expressed in certain sections of the Indian media regarding the legitimacy of political activism in public universities. This argument claims that since central and state governments subsidize education in public institutions, it is the responsibility of beneficiaries to refrain from critiquing state policies and to solely prioritize their studies. We firmly reject this cost-benefit understanding of education as shallow, apolitical, and deeply reactionary. As the saying goes, ‘education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire’. The current administration and sections of the media would prefer students to remain uncritical of the violence of Brahmanism, communalism, and neoliberal capitalism. But the Rohiths of the world will keep lighting a fire and keep burning down bigotry. We believe that both public education and free speech are fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution, rights that have been earned through long struggle and rights that we will keep fighting for in India and elsewhere as we face systematic neoliberal onslaughts on dissent and education.
To our friends, colleagues and comrades in JNU, HCU, FTII and elsewhere, we stand with you in your resistance against state sponsored violence, which curbs any form of dissent on the one hand, and on the other, condones hate speech by Hindu nationalists. We believe that scholarship and the concomitant development of our critical faculties should be used in dreaming of and implementing a better, pluralistic and just society.
Sayantan Saha Roy, PhD student, Anthropology
Ahona Panda, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Harini Kumar, PhD student, Anthropology
Tanima, PhD student, Anthropology
Sneha Annavarapu, PhD student, Sociology
Abhishek Bhattacharyya, Phd Student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations and Anthropology
Tejas Parasher, PhD student, Political Science
Jenisha Borah, PhD student, Cinema and Media Studies.
Suchismita Das, PhD student, Anthropology
Vidura Jang Bahadur, MFA student, Visual Art
Mannat Johal, PhD student, Anthropology
Shefali Jha, PhD student, Anthropology
Sanjukta Poddar, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Aditi Das, PhD student, Social Service Administration
Joya John, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Marc Kelly, PhD student, Anthropology
Eleonore Rimbault, PhD student, Anthropology
Eric Powell, PhD student, English
Patrick Lewis, PhD student, Anthropology
Romit Chakraborty, PhD student, Chemistry
Gautham Reddy, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Amanda Shubert, PhD student, English
Peter McDonald, PhD student, English
Hannah Chazin, PhD student, Anthropology
Jahnabi Barooah, PhD student, Divinity
Margherita Trento, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Peter Malonis, PhD student, Neuroscience
Zoya Sameen, PhD student, History
Sharvari Sastry, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Andrew Messamore, MA student, Social Sciences Division
Thomas Newbold, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Eduardo L. Acosta, PhD student, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Uday Jain, PhD student, Committee on Social Thought