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JNU Protests: Compulsory Attendance And Research Don’t Go Hand-In-Hand

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The peace at JNU has been threatened once again after a minimum compulsory attendance circular was passed by the administration in December last year. Since the release of the circular, the JNU campus has been filled with the roars of a new protest, which are being carried out by the students of the university to express their discontent and dissent against the minimum 75% attendance criteria imposed by the administration.

The Circular

As per the circular which had been issued by the JNU administration, students who fail to have the minimum 75% attendance criteria will not be permitted to attend the next semester in the university. It further stated that the students seeking fellowships/scholarships will also need to meet the minimum attendance criteria in order to have their requests processed. In case these students do not meet the minimum attendance criteria, they will be denied hostel and medical facilities.

This circular forced the JNU Students’ Union to call for a ‘total strike’ on February 9, 2018, as they found this to be dictatorial on the part of the administration.

The union had circulated the following message to the student’s community- “This is a do or die situation for the University. Students united cannot be defeated.” The students stood in large numbers right in front of the university building, blocking the way of anyone who tried to go inside the building. On the same day, a woman student activist also lodged a complaint against a university professor for misbehaving with her during the protest.

The Administration Reacts

The JNU vice chancellor, M Jagadesh Kumar, tweeted regarding the clash with the students over the attendance issue: “Despite High Court order not to hold any protests near JNU admin building, not only there is a huge gathering since morning, JNUSU led students have even confined the top officials of JNU within admin building since 11 AM. Taking the university to ransom and confining the top officials in admin building since morning is highly condemnable. Let us raise our voice against such unwelcome behaviour.”

Consequently, the administration moved the Delhi High Court claiming that the protests were causing problems in the routine functioning of the university. On February 16, 2018, the court issued notices to JNUSU for allegedly violating a court ruling that prohibited them from protesting within 100 metres of the varsity’s administration building. Meanwhile, the administration had also accused students of confining two officials since Thursday morning in the administrative block. However, the students union denied any such allegation. Two FIRs were also lodged by the police against the students who restricted the officials from moving out of the building.

JNU’s administration has been accused of being a bully and adopting authoritarian methods towards the students over the past few months. According to the union, the administration has been trying to destroy the spirit of JNU through the recent decisions like the cut-down in the number of seats for research and the scrapping of the GSCASH

Students Speak

Regarding the new attendance policy at JNU, Anugyan Nag, Assistant Professor, AJK-MCRC, JMI (PhD scholar, JNU, said: “JNU is primarily a postgraduate and research-based institution. For instance, students and scholars attend coursework for two semesters, twice or thrice a week and then in the following semester, go on to conduct their field work, data collection, archival work, etc. In certain cases, students go far away for the above. How is it possible for research students to sign attendance? Most importantly, JNU has its own culture and legacy. At any point in time, if one has to check any classroom or seminar session, you will find 99.9 % attendance; this is a rare scenario in other institutions. I remember vividly when I was a student, in the two semesters of my coursework; I think I only missed two classes. There was no administrative or external pressure; we voluntarily and enthusiastically attended every class along with all other special lectures and events.”

He supported the student body and further added: “The protests must go on, as this is a baseless rule and imposition, infantilising an institution and its matured, adult and serious scholars. Compulsory attendance does not exist anywhere in the west or any reputed college/universities worldwide.”

Somaya Gupta, who is currently studying at JNU, expressed her disappointment with the new attendance policy at JNU.

According to her, the administration is trying to change the very composition of JNU through authoritarian means, wherein the democratic rights of the students to freedom of speech and the right to express dissent are being taken away. “If the attendance is made compulsory and is shifted towards a biometric system, we will be under the surveillance of the authorities 24*7. This decision is a small part of the larger picture at hand – where the authorities are trying to homogenise the space, the opinions of the students – and are trying to keep them restricted to classrooms and do nothing else. Since most of the faculty and students do not want such a rule, it draws our attention to the tricky, malicious and suspicious intentions of the JNU admin,” she said.

Students from all the political parties have been participating in the protest, with members from both right-wing and left-wing parties.

For the first time in a few years, students belonging to political parties such as the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), All India Students Association (AISA), Students Federation of India (SFI), Democratic Students Front (DSF), and the National Students Union of India (NSUI), have come together to raise their voice against the draconian rules of the JNU authorities.

What is at stake is the very spirit of JNU, which has been functioning successfully on a zero attendance model, maintaining its rank as one of the premier institutes since several decades. In such a situation, the rationale behind the decision of the authorities is questionable, given the fact the neither of the parties involved – the student body or the faculty – is supporting it.

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