By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz:
On 11th February, it was a pitched battle in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), as far as sloganeering is concerned, in front of the Administration Block, the usual site for such demonstrations. A confrontation was avoided, quite possibly, due to the security personnel who formed a wall between the two warring groups.
While the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) activists sat down on the ground with their placards – “Jo Afzal Ka Yaar Hai/Woh Desh Ka Gaddar Hai (whoever is Afzal’s friend is a traitor)” etc. – the Left activists milled around the stairs to the building. For a change, the mainstream Left organisations like AISF (All India Students’ Federation), SFI (Students’ Federation of India), and AISA (All India Students’ Association) have also stood up for their comrades – organisers of the cultural function which has brought the campus to a boil – who were part of the ultra-left DSU (Democratic Students’ Union) till a few weeks ago; generally, the DSU keeps aloof, and vice versa, from other Left organisations whom it considers revisionists. Other Left organisations consider DSU too radical.
On 10th February, the ex-DSU students, who have just resigned from the organisation over differences with the higher leadership on gender issues, organised a cultural event. The permission for the event had been duly taken “from four authorities,” Umar Khalid, one of the organisers told me. This was corroborated by another of the organisers who chose to remain anonymous.
The Dean of Students Welfare, Shyamal Goswami, who was one of the authorities who signed the permission letter according to the organisers, refused to comment when I spoke to him. The event was called ‘The Country Without a Post Office’ – an allusion to a collection of poems by Agha Shahid Ali, a Kashmiri poet, who wrote about the strife in his homeland in his poetry.
Kanhaiya Kumar is the JNUSU (JNU Students’ Union) President. He is from Bihar and this came up in a speech made by an ABVP activist on Thursday. “Kanhaiya is a blot on the name of Bihar,” the activist had charged.
Nearby, the mattresses were laid out without anyone occupying them. Some students have been on an indefinite hunger strike against the alleged injustice which led to Rohit Vemula’s suicide but they had left the building for the time being. A poster featured a few lines from Vemula’s suicide note. The controversy that has erupted at Hyderabad Central University (HCU) found an echo on Thursday in JNU as well.
Kanhaiya Kumar, JNUSU president who made an impassioned speech, also invoked the Dalit Ph.D. scholar’s name and warned that the same thing would not be repeated in JNU and that all the progressive forces were together. He also took out his phone from his shirt pocket and showed it to the audience. “My female relatives are being abused online. My mother is an anganwadi worker and receives Rs. 3000 per month. How come my mother does not come under your definition of Bharat Mata?” At that, the crowd broke into rapturous applause.
“Jahan Hue Balidan Mukherjee/Woh Kashmir Hamara Hai (Where Mukherjee was martyred/That Kashmir is Ours),” the ABVP activists raised the slogan loudly on their side. The allusion was to the “mysterious” death of Shayama Prasad Mukherjee in a Kashmir prison. The old favourite – “Doodh Mangoge Kheer Denge/Kashmir Mangoge Cheer Denge (Will give sweets if you want milk/will tear you into two if you want Kashmir)” – also made a lusty appearance.
Khalid also told me that a situation similar to the one witnessed recently in HCU was being created in JNU and elsewhere in the country where dissent was becoming impossible. “To think is to be anti-national it seems,” he said. Khalid and another organiser alleged that the permission to organise the event was withdrawn “five minutes” before it was to start. The message to cancel, they charged, was delivered through the security guards.
The University has ordered a disciplinary enquiry, claiming that the students had “misled” it. However, Khalid and two other organisers refuted the claim and said the University was in the know of the nature of the programme. They added that the programme was a cultural function about Kashmir in general, and not just about the hanging of Afzal Guru, and included songs, poems, and an art exhibition.
A similar tussle had occurred last year around the same time over the same issue and one of the orgainsers was evicted from his hostel and had to pay a fine of Rs. 5000 for booking the venue, the organisers told me.
Later, Saurabh Kumar Sharma of the ABVP spoke after Kanhaiya Kumar had spoken. Ironically, he charged the Vice-Chancellor who has just taken charge of siding with the Left activists. He demanded that the authorities take action against the organisers of the cultural event. “We give a week’s time. Otherwise, we will gherao the ad-block and obstruct all work. The ten people who organised the event should be rusticated, nahin toh hum tod-fod karenge (else we will commit vandalism),” he threatened. More slogans followed. “Naxaliyon Ki Kabr Khudegi, JNU Ki Dharti Pe (Naxalites will be buried in JNU).” I tried a couple of times to speak to Kumar but he demurred saying he was busy.
The third organiser spoken to for the story, who also wished to remain anonymous, alleged that the ABVP students had manhandled girls who were present at the event. “We have filed charges in the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment,” claimed the third organiser.
While the situation on-ground was heated enough, it caught dramatic fire at Arnab Goswami’s prime-time TV debate on ‘The Newshour’ where an angrier than usual Arnab Goswami raged and blasted JNU students, something that has itself become news.