Since February 2016, people from all quarters have questioned the very existence of Jawaharlal Nehru University and the model of education which it represents. Any public transport I take or any public place that I visit, people are ready with many questions like; why there should be a subsidy on education at all? I answer a few, try to convince them sometimes but honestly, I don’t know how to make them understand the value of JNU model. I am writing this article to make people understand why the JNU model is necessary for a better India. It is not an article. It is a story. A true story of one of my batchmates from JNU.
Why am I writing this? Because he thinks that he should not share his story with the world as he feels it’s unimportant. He is afraid of the sympathy that people might express towards him. Still, I strongly feel that his story needs to be told, and here I am writing this (with his consent).
Hrushikesh Behera, is a research scholar at the Centre of Media Studies, JNU. I first met this guy while we were both pursuing M.A at JNU, I in Modern History and he in Ancient History. During our brief meeting, I came to know that he was not well versed in English which is the medium of instruction at JNU. The reason for his inability lied in his schooling which was done in an Odia medium government school. He told me once that until the completion of his graduation, he had studied only in Odia. Now, he found himself in one of the premier institutes of the country, where people were speaking and writing in fluent English.
As we started meeting often, I came to know more about him. Behera hails from a small village, Sakhigopal of Puri district in Odisha. Most of the villagers, including his parents, were unskilled daily wage labourers. Being from the Tanti jati (Weaver Caste), his family was not allowed to enter the temple. Despite facing all these economic and social hardships, his parents always supported his education and encouraged him to study. For people like us, whose parents can give us hundreds or thousands in pocket money daily, it would be shocking to know that Behera, during his college days, used to work as daily wage labourer at a construction site.
Even while facing so many hardships, he volunteered for National Service Scheme, National Youth Project, and the Red Cross Society. Living a life full of difficulties gave him an early realisation that society needs a change and this was the reason that he volunteered with so many organisations. During one such National Integration Meet, he happened to meet a researcher from JNU, who told him that in Delhi there is a University where you need to pay a fee of only ₹200 per semester and students are also granted with Means Cum Merit (MCM) Scholarship of ₹1500/month.
That gave him hope. Hope that a poor parents’ son could also study in a big city. Hope that he can also make it big in life. Hope that he can also serve this society and the nation. Behera entered JNU in 2013 as a student of M.A (Ancient History). To fund his admission, his college teachers raised money through donation. Here in JNU, he faced language issues, he scored poorly, but his teachers took extra care of him and gave him extra time. With their help and his determination not only he passed his MA, but also took admission in research.
Today, he works as a political/social activist while people outside JNU, join social work or politics to only make money, for them, it is a profession. In JNU, Behera has nothing. He owns one pair of shirt and pants, which he washes every night and wears the next day. And believe me, he never talks about these hardships. I came to know of this fact when one day someone asked him why does he not change his shirt in front of me.
Why did I choose to tell this story? Because I want to tell the world what JNU stands for. JNU stands for equal opportunity for all. Rather than demanding to shut down JNU, people should instead ask for a JNU in every nook and corner of this country. JNU is an idea that any Indian, irrespective of his class, caste, creed or gender can avail quality education. The story of Hrushikesh Behera is inspiring, but for JNU it is not the only story. This is our JNU.