Recounting Events At JNU: What Really Happened On The 9th Of February And After

Posted on March 14, 2016 in Campus Watch, Society

By Asmit Pathare:

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Classes on Nationalism. Image credit: V. Arun Kumar/M.Phil JNU.

Situated in the Mehrauli-Vasant Kunj area of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has become the centre of attention of the whole nation. Not that it lacked attention earlier. But this year, JNU has been in the thick of things, first because of the ‘Occupy UGC’ movement, protesting against the cancellation of fellowships by the HRD (Human Resource Development) ministry in higher education; secondly, because of the protest march to the HRD ministry over the Rohith Vemula suicide; and thirdly, because of the ‘anti-India’ sloganeering that took place on the campus on the 9th of February. In the eight days that followed, till the 17th of February, through our country’s trigger happy media conducting trials, JNU went from being one of the most prestigious institutions in the country to a ‘terrorist hangout’.

Every citizen of our country has a right to have and express their opinion. Accordingly, many of us riding on the tide of national sentiment with complete faith in the media trials started demanding the shutting down of JNU. By the looks of it, the whole thing seemed doubtful – the senselessness with which statements were made about JNU (still are being made) solidified my doubts and I hit JNU. I met and discussed with a lot of first-hand student witnesses all the incidents right from the 9th of February until the recent Patiala House Court violence; this is the ground zero report.

A few months back, some students left the DSU (Democratic Students’ Union ) in the JNU campus because of ideological differences; one of them was Umar Khalid. Khalid and about seven or eight of his friends had organised a cultural event ‘Country Without A Post Office’ on the 9th of February at 5.30 p.m. on the ground in front of the Sabarmati Hostel. ‘Debate on Judicial Killing’ was a topic for discussion in this event. According to the rules of the University, permission for the event was granted by the Vice-Chancellor’s office on the morning of 7th February with the promise of fulfilling all the required conditions. By afternoon, pamphlets were distributed throughout JNU which carried the names and signatures of the eight to nine organising students. (‘The Country Without a Post Office’ is a poetry collection by Agha Shahid Ali, a Kashmiri poet who spent a large part of his life in America).

An hour before the scheduled time of the event, a cancellation notice from the Vice-Chancellor’s office was received. When the organisers enquired with the Vice-Chancellor, it turned out that ABVP had lodged a complaint in this regard. The Vice-Chancellor’s office also extended the following reasoning: “Due to the possibility of unlawful activities happening during the event, the permission has been revoked.” At around 5 p.m., angry Kashmiri students gathered for the event started protesting. At the same time, slogans were heard from the ABVP group already present at the venue : ‘Afzal jaisi maut maraa, tumhein bhi waisi maut maarenge’ (We shall give you the same death that Afzal received), ‘Kashmiri desh ke gaddar hain, unhein Pakistan bhejo’ (Kashmiris are traitors of the country, send them to Pakistan).

From the account of first-hand student witnesses, there was a majority of non-JNU students in both the groups – the Kashmiri group and ABVP. Tension began mounting as time passed. Then there was sloganeering from the Kashmiri students group: ‘Afzal hum sharminda hain, tere qaatil zinda hain’ (Afzal we are ashamed, your killers are still alive), ‘Bharat ki barbaadi tak, jung hamaari jaari rahegi’ (Our battle shall continue till the destruction of Bharat). After the sloganeering, there was a scuffle between a few Kashmiri and ABVP students. A lot of students and JNU Councillors present requested both the groups to stop raising slogans.

The media raised this issue across the country along with videos. The first reports of this incident came from Zee News and Aaj Tak. According to accounts of student witnesses, news cameras were already in position from 4 p.m. Along with the two channels mentioned above, most other news channels through their media trials declared the whole of JNU as ‘terrorist’. Now, the question of JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest arises.

Let us first understand what JNU is. Just the way we have student bodies in our schools and colleges, JNU has a temporary organisation called ‘Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union’ which falls under the ambit of the Dean. Four chief office bearers and about 30 councillors (belonging to the various departments/schools) are democratically elected from amongst the students through a process of open elections. These student representatives carry the moral responsibility of keeping JNU’s socio-political and intellectual atmosphere unharmed.

The Left organisations namely AISF (All India Students’ Federation), AISA (All India Students’ Association) and SFI (Students’ Federation of India) have always maintained a strong presence in JNUSU in the 47 years of its existence since 1969. The NSUI (National Students’ Union of India), Congress’ student wing and ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), RSS’ student wing have never been able to make a place for themselves in the scheme of things. Of the four office bearers, President Kanhaiya Kumar is from AISF, Vice President Shehla Rashid and General Secretary Rama Naga are from AISA while the Joint Secretary Saurabh Sharma is from ABVP.

On 9th February, Kanhaiya Kumar reached the Sabarmati Hostel area around 6-6.30 p.m. with a few companions. Realising that it was his moral responsibility to do so, he requested both the groups to stop the sloganeering. JNUSU councillors along with a few professors and students mediated and calmed the atmosphere down. The cameras caught everything that transpired between 5.30 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. All the uncut versions along with the sound that we see are true.

Right from the inception of the University, there has been an unwritten rule (or let’s say tradition) that the Vice-Chancellor cannot deny permission for any event. Some students say that Kanhaiya did enquire about the revoking of permission for ‘Country Without A Post Office’ and that is a part of his responsibility and duty as well. The Kashmiri students were not satisfied by the response from the Vice-Chancellor’s office. They sensed a vengeful agenda against them since the complaint was made by ABVP. The student witnesses as well as the media footage both confirm that the anti-Kashmir and anti-Afzal Guru slogans raised by the ABVP activists standing behind the media sparked the fire. An M.Phil student from the Centre for Historical Studies in JNU said that the Vice-Chancellor’s office responded to the JNUSU Councillor’s enquiry thus: “JNU Intelligence suspects that there is a possibility of grave unlawful activities and as a preventive measure, the permission for the event has been revoked.”

I asked this student, “Have you ever heard such a reason in JNU before?”

He shook his head and exclaimed with surprise, “JNU Intelligence is something I am hearing for the first time.”

Through the night of the event, the entire second and third day, right until the midnight of the third day, Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid, Rama Naga and Saurabh Sharma were confronting media trials within the campus as well as in news studios. In the midst of all this, the ‘Justice For Rohith’ movement had reached its 18th day. 10-12 students were sitting on a fast as a part of the protest in JNU. On the evening of 11th February, Kanhaiya condemned the maligning of JNU’s image and explained his and JNUSU’s position with respect to the anti-India sloganeering. On the morning of the 12th, Kanhaiya’s speech went viral.

At the behest of news channels, Umar Khalid and other students participated in news debates to clarify their stand on the slogans. However, they could not get enough time to do so because of the one-sided screaming and shouting of Arnab Goswami, Deepak Chaurasia, Rohit Sardana and others. Without listening to their arguments, the whole issue was handled more on sentiment than reason and the students were termed terrorists. From the 11th, they decided not to confront any media in any form. On the 12th, a BJP MLA from Delhi East lodged an FIR saying, “JNU is a terrorist hangout,” and demanded strict action from the centre.

JNU had targeted the HRD ministry in two movements just prior to this; Smriti Irani issued statements about JNU on the 12th and for the past four days media had been deliberately maligning the image of JNU and the Left organisations with irrational and illogical arguments. The cadre of AISF, AISA and SFI had sensed that the police might start a witch-hunt on the campus the same evening. Consequently, all active student councillors and cadre apart from AISF left the campus. Some advised Kanhaiya to leave as well. But he chose to stay behind since he found no reason to be afraid of anything. At 2 a.m. on the 13th of February, Kanhaiya was arrested by the police. The boys and girls hostels were raided without following any protocol. No other student belonging to the left organisations was arrested except Kanhaiya. The following questions, therefore, arise:

1. The anti-India slogans were shouted in the event by the Kashmiri students. They were triggered by ABVP students. Why were none of these arrested?
2. ABVP complained to the authorities that there might arise a law and order situation owing to the presence of non-JNU Kashmiri students at the event. What about the non-JNU students on ABVP’s side?
3. At 2 a.m., shoving any and all protocol aside a student gets arrested in one of the premier universities in the country. How does the administration choose to stay away and not interfere at all?
4. While JNU’s image was being maligned on national media, how come there is not even as much as a statement from the Vice-Chancellor or the administration?

These are the questions students of JNU are raising today.

The court has refuted charges against Kanhaiya. On one side, we have the violence propagated at the court by the lawyers, the statements of the BJP MLA, their threat of taking the law in their own hands and on the other side we have Kanhaiya’s statement of having deep belief in the Constitution of India and the graceful way he is handling the entire situation. The respect for JNU rises.

Umar Khalid and his associates disappeared after Kanhaiya’s arrest. If one is to look at the source of where this all began, one can conclude that Kanhaiya’s arrest was unreasonable. After his arrest, the Home Minister gave a statement saying ‘Kanhaiya is backed by Hafeez Sayeed’. According to the Intelligence Bureau report submitted to the Indian Government, Kanhaiya has no links with Hafiz Saeed. Along with this, another news channel claimed that Umar Khalid has the support of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terrorist organisation. Preliminary reports state that the government has not accepted this report. The impatience and the arrogance with which the Indian government arrested Kanhaiya and the defensive attitude it is adopting with respect to Umar Khalid clearly betray the motives of this establishment.

Kanhaiya’s arrest also shows the BJP’s narrow-minded attitude towards the open atmosphere at JNU and the Left student movements in general.

I too had been battling a question in my mind and thought of clarifying it, now that I was at JNU. “Do you feel it is right to interfere in political matters when you are a student, at JNU or any educational institution for that matter?” I asked this question to a student as we walked from the Administrative Block towards Periyar Hostel.

He exclaimed, “Absolutely! It is very important in student life to actively think, discuss and debate about political happenings. I would say it is a facet of active student life.”

I countered him, “But education and politics are two different things. How do you draw the connection?” He responded with a smile, “There is a deep connection. If the politicians playing this politics had got even an iota of education, there would not have been a cut in the education budget, fellowships would not have been discontinued.” And he added, “Where do you not find politics? Be it at home or hostel, politics is everywhere. Just as we see our home as the smallest unit of economics, consider the University the smallest unit of politics.”

I got an idea of the political maturity at JNU after hearing this second year MA student speak. Then in the mess in front of the Central Library, I got a chance to discuss the future of the ‘Justice for Rohith’ movement with Saurabh, Rashi and Irfan studying at the School of International Relations. “Movements in JNU are not just empty sloganeering. We follow the strategy of Passive Resistance. As part of the same, senior professors, thinkers and social activists are conducting open classes on the issue of ‘Nationalism’…Those participating are eminent historian Romila Thapar, Janaki Nair, Nivedita Menon, etc.,” they told me.

Rashi, who is originally from Chandigarh went on, “These classes happen in the open area in front of the Administrative Building. Students belonging to all ideologies participate in these and open discussions are conducted.” Neel Nirdosh Kumar, studying M.Phil at the Centre for Historical Studies said, “Although I am not aligned with any ideology, I was deeply hurt by the Rohith Vemula issue and the manner in which the sloganeering issue at JNU was handled by the media and the government is purely misleading the nation.”

In the last few weeks Zee News, Aaj Tak, Times Now etc. have without any research or investigation, irrationally termed JNU as a ‘terrorist hangout’. The issue is also coloured further by bringing in the angle of Lance Naik Hanumanthappa’s death. Media debates have been orchestrated by shutting up JNU representatives by asking them to prove their patriotism instead of having an investigative approach. ‘We pay taxes and hence, we are exempt from our basic duties as citizens’, ‘the whole country is run by us and hence those who study on our money should keep their mouths shut and just study’, ‘we are broad-minded enough to allow reservations in this country and thus, you should remain indebted to us’ – this is the attitude of over 60% of this country’s population that lack any socio-political or economic understanding.

The culprit here is not the mentality, ideology or even intelligence but the fabricated information that made its way there before the truth.

The original article by Jayantkumar Sonawane was translated into English by Asmit Pathare.

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