Consequences of an event organised by some students from the Jawaharlal Nehru University on February 9 to question the execution of Afzal Guru has changed the entire landscape of the university. Over 50 cameras have been installed within the campus to keep a check on outsiders. Sixteen students have been barred from voting in the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union elections 2016 to be held on September 9, unless they pay the fines imposed on them. They were found to be guilty by the High Level Enquiry Committee setup by JNU to look into the February 9 incident. A High Level Enquiry Committee was setup by the university which awarded strict punishments to all those who were found guilty. Some were fined while others were suspended or rusticated for a fixed period of time. JNUSU took part in a hunger strike for more than ten days but the Vice- Chancellor did not meet the fasting students even once. Interestingly, the Delhi High Court has stayed the order of the committee taking disciplinary action against the students.
Rama Naga, General Secretary for the JNUSU from 2015-2016 wrote in a facebook post after he found out that he couldn’t vote in the upcoming elections, “The administration has been creating hurdles in our academic activities for the last six months. After the February 9 incident, it suspended us from academic activities without listening to a single word from us.” Students considered guilty by the committee had earlier even claimed that they were being denied their due fellowship. The administration had claimed that it was a technical error.
A campus which throughout its history has been famous for being an an open, liberal and progressive space has been threatened by the actions of the administration, interference of the Central government and the rise of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. ABVP supported the invitation of Ramdev to speak in the campus on December, 2015 by the Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies. Ramdev had earlier said that he could cure both homosexuality and cancer through Yoga. While the protests were going on after Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in JNU continued to criticise the JNUSU and the students. Saurabh Sharma, Joint secretary of JNUSU from ABVP for 2015-2016 did not take part in a single protest organised by the union against Kanhaiya’s arrest. What offended the Hindu right more was a handful of people shouting anti- India slogans, instead of a 28 year old PhD student being arrested on charges of sedition without any visible evidence.
Ever since the February 9 incident took place, the Central government has also taken a keen interest in the affairs of the university. Home Minister Rajnath Singh had issued a statement saying that student protesters in the aftermath of Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest had the support of Hafiz Saeed, a designated terrorist and leader of Lashkar-E-Taiba. It is believed to be a based on a tweet by the fake Twitter handle of the terrorist.
The JNU movement’s impact didn’t remain restricted to the university. The movement showed that there is an alternative centre of resistance which is talking about basic rights denied to millions of Indians. Perhaps this explains why Dalit women workers in Una have been taped chanting slogans of azadi, popularised by Kanhaiya’s speech. For the Dalit women forced to clean human excreta from dry toilets all their lives, Kanhaiya wasn’t an anti-national. He was someone who was saying things they could relate to. Shunned by brutal hierarchies of the Indian caste system even after so many years of independence, perhaps ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ doesn’t mean much to them. Important leaders from the students’ union went to speak on Independence Day at the Dalit protests in Una and have also spoken in other parts of the country. The impact has indeed spilt over.
The mainstream left in JNU, comprising of the All India Students’ Association, Students’ Federation of India and the All India Students’ Federation for the first time in the university’s history have all come together in an alliance to fight against ABVP as the polling for the JNUSU election takes place on September 9. Yet, the recent charge of rape against an activist from AISA has shocked many within the left. AISA has always been very vocal on issues of gender and this makes it even harder to digest.
Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association, a Dalit party is also hoping to do well. It’s not just the right which has been accused of being insensitive to the plight of Dalits. Left has regularly been accused of ignoring caste and focusing on class. With the rise of Dalit assertion in the state of Gujarat which has spread to other parts of India, it’ll be interesting to see how Bahujan politics play out in the student elections.
JNU student elections are a microcosm of what we see in the country. Forces of nationalism and a fatigued bureaucracy are clashing with structural inequalities, while even the progressive forces have stains on them after the alleged rape. Will class trump over caste as it has in JNU throughout its history? Will Jai Bhim resonate? Or should we expect Baba Ramdev to speak at JNU very soon?
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