By Mohit Pandey:
“If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed.”
― Paulo Freire
February 9 will always remain etched in the history of JNU as a historic date. It not only brought the brutal face of authority to JNU’s doors but also unleashed the new way dissent is crushed by the government within campuses – through sensationalism, propaganda, false statements, defamation campaigns, witch hunting and ban on posters. In the days that followed, we saw what harm absolute power can do, when it gets corrupted.
One word that gave students hope and continues to do so even today, a year after the incident is ‘resistance’. It was resistance that enabled students together to stand for the right cause and unitedly fight back against this attack on the university.
When we saw them attack FTII, HCU, IIT Madras, we stood with its students in solidarity. I wondered during that time what plans they had for JNU. This was also the time the university was waiting for its new Vice Chancellor.
On January 27, M. Jagadesh Kumar became the JNU Vice Chancellor. On February 12, police raided the campus for the first time. Students were witch hunted, hostels raided and an environment of fear-mongering created within JNU. JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar along with others was sent to jail. Some students were forced to go underground for threat of hounding and witch-hunting. Students feared going out of campus. The campus had become a target for hate mongers. This was the same time when the administration punished several students without even giving them a chance to speak and started meddling around with JNU’s admission policy by scuttling provisions. Even then, we gathered, we discussed, we debated, we protested and we collectively resisted the new strategy of punishment and exclusion.
But JNU had come under the spotlight. Everyone was discussing our campus and what it meant to live and study in it. When we travelled across India after 9th February, many questions were hurled at us – on the utility of taxpayers’ money, our idea of a nation, our presumed ideas about Kashmir, AFSPA and the Indian Army etc. We responded to these questions arguing for JNU. We told people that JNU stands for a public funded education system where everyone can get quality education, where one can debate ideas freely, where public meetings can be called, cultural programs can be held and where various ideologies co-exist. But our answers proved futile. JNU’s image had been dented.
February 9 passed, but days after February have seen a more concerted attack on the university, one where communal-fascist forces are trying to destroy the very idea of an education system where students from all backgrounds including marginalised communities can live, study and grow.
There is no doubt that last year’s attack was horrific. The state machinery tried its best to destroy JNU in one go. But working collectively, students pushed these forces back. The fight for the soul of the university, however, still continues. The attacks also have become shrewder and more frequent in forms like putting a stop on public meetings and open gatherings; giving notices to students’ activists, closing dhabas and shops insides campus and changing rules of academic activities. These are only some of the ways the BJP-RSS appointees have tried to bulldoze our spaces.
All this, however, reached an unprecedented low in October when Najeeb Ahmad, a first year MSc. Biotechnology student was brutally beaten inside the hostel and communal abuses were hurled at him by ABVP members. Najeeb has been missing since October 15, but in the period that followed, the university administration has done nothing. A proctorial inquiry was set up after student protests, and the proctor did find ABVP members “guilty of hitting Najeeb with provocative intention”. But again, brute force and communal hue of authority worked in ABVP’s favour and nothing happened. JNU failed to recognise a communal angle in the whole episode, even shielding ABVP students. Why? I believe this was a state-backed ideology for creating a communal ideology on campus. I never imagined things will get this bad, to be honest.
It will be a year since Kanhaiya was picked up from campus and we find ourselves fighting against yet another government policy – a policy that will not only push marginalised sections out of the territory of higher education but close that gate for thousands of students who aspire to still study in JNU. Violating all due procedures, the University has approved a policy that will massively cut seats in the varsity’s M.Phil/PhD programmes. Thousands of students have in an open referendum opposed this move.
But the question remains – will the administration listen? More importantly, is this the idea that JNU stands for? When universities become graveyards of free voices, then it hints towards the death of University. And this is what the ruling dispensation wants. They want to kill Universities like JNU. They want to destroy spaces of free thinking, social justice and public funded education. They want to kill any kind of intellectualism that exists in our universities. Many students and teachers have had to face punishments for resisting this move.
Another Feb 9 is here. But the fight continues. Like last year, we still hold on to our songs of resistance. When they challenged us with their notions of nationalism, we collectively sat at JNU’s administration block and discussed and debated nationalism as a sign of protest against RSS’s monolithic idea of Hindutva nationalism. This time as well, we will resist with whatever we have. Because we want JNU to exist and to exist is to resist.
About the author: Mohit Pandey is the current president of the JNU Students’ Union.