The JNU Factor: PhD Fellows Speak Up On The JNU Crisis
NEW DELHI: “A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives. If the Universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the Nation and the People” -- Jawaharlal Nehru
These lines are crafted as the cornerstone of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Today, they stand out in stark irony against what has been going on in the name of so-called sedition since February 8 this year. More than a month has passed since the event but the shocking impact has caught up with every right-thinking citizen of India.
According to noted practising advocate of the Kolkata High Court Jayantanarayan Chattopadhyay, “Section 124-A on sedition came into practice during the colonial rule of the British. The definition and meaning of sedition no longer means what it did under colonial rule. This is the age of social media. So it is time we thought about the elaboration and logic of this law all over again.” Even the Honorable President of India Pranab Mukherjee has talked about the necessity of bringing in modification in this law. We now have the Constitution in our hands to guide us about what is legal and logical and what is not. Everyone has the constitutional right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
All this has been repeated ad infinitum in recent weeks. What has not been voiced clearly are the thoughts and opinions of a few voices from within the JNU. What exactly is happening at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, an august institution that is progressive, open and secular in theory and in practice? What do Ph.D. scholars who are studying at the JNU feel about this terrible intrusion into the institution and its activities and working? Was the accusation of sedition against Kanhaiya and his two colleagues right? What exactly is the JNU like and what is it that makes it stand out among many academic institutions in the rest of the country known for mayhem and student uproars at the slightest cue or non-cue?
I persuaded three students of the JNU pursuing their doctoral studies to voice their opinion. Anugyan Nag who has just been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship says, “I stand in full solidarity with JNU, Kanhaiya, Umar and Anirban and all others who have been falsely charged with sedition. This incident by now has made it very clear how institutions of excellence and which nurture free speech and progressive intellectualism and liberal humanism are constantly being attacked and gagged. But such institutions are stronger than fascist forces. Doctored videos cannot sabotage few individuals and an institution like JNU. I condemn such concocted and vicious politics. This struggle will not stop. This will go on and I am more than sure that we will come out with more meaning in the end. Kanhaiya has proved what leadership is and what a brilliant heartfelt and thoughtful speech he has given that has made me proud that I belong to this space.
Sumit Dey says, “As a general student of JNU, without any direct political affiliation, I believe that the present situation in JNU comprises of a strong polarization between left and right leaning student wings of different political parties. It is not only grave but also symptomatic of a larger disease of the Indian democracy after six decades of the country's Independence. It is not a situation that can or should be seen in isolation. JNU has always accommodated various ideologies of different political parties through their student wings. The ideologies range from extreme left to extreme right. There have been ongoing debates among such varied political voices, ensuring their vibrant co-existence. In that light, the event “The Country without a Post Office” was organized on the 9th of February. The series of incidents that followed the event is now common knowledge with people drawing different conclusions. The international and national academia have come out in support of JNU, regretting the curtailment of a democratic, dissenting voice that has emerged from the liberal academic space that JNU is. Unfortunately, the dissenting voices are being criminalized on grounds of being 'Anti-national'. The discourse of self-proclaimed ‘nationalism’ sought to be guarded by 'assaulting-the-dissenter’ mentality is problematic in itself. A few right wing students are enhancing this problematic area by abusing their democratic freedom to harm campus democracy.”
He goes on to add that if one assesses the videos doing their rounds in the social media, whether the contents of the said ‘slogans’ came or did not come from the three JNU students arrested by the Delhi Police but by ‘outsiders’ can lead to another series of heated discussions and debates across the sensation-hungry media, the fact remains that sadly, the Ruling Party and its close ally the RSS student wing and ABVP resorted to verbal and physical violence. Dey says that dissenting voices within the ABVP itself within the JNU has resulted in four student members resigning from ABVP. Dey sums up by saying that these issues are markers of the danger of majority politics within a secular, sensible and progressive academic ambience that JNU is known for. “The unconstitutional violence, the unsaid reign of terror and the coming in of Police on a campus like JNU, a premiere institute to have received the President's award for excellence in research and innovations, is not acceptable and endangering to the democratic principles laid down in the Constitution.”
Spandan Bhattacharya says, “Over the past month, it appears as if the State has declared a war against the teachers and students of JNU and the campus. They are scared of the very idea of JNU and what it stands for - a democratic space where everyone is free to discuss, debate, and express their views. Such spaces are considered both a threat and a danger for any fascist state which tries to turn these spaces into battlegrounds. We may disagree with each other politically on different grounds but it is both hurtful and shameful to witness how some students of our campus have transformed themselves into monsters by paid news channels that are hugely popular among the target viewership. I personally consider this to be a clear case of witch-hunt and a war against JNU that can soon turn its attention to other colleges and universities in the near future. Such pervasive attacks are dividing the country across caste, class and religious lines. Some goons claiming to be advocates of law have attacked some of our teachers in court. Strangely, their action has not been taken by the powers-that-be seriously. Three of the videos were found to have been doctored. It is now commonly accepted that the contentious slogans were raised loudly by a few whose faces were covered – and who are said to have been outsiders. Why has no attempt been made to identify them? Has the government appointed itself to become a cleansing agent in educational institutions instead of turning a patient ear to the students in academia?”
The bright ray of light that filters in through this dark tunnel of concocted conflict that is as futile as it is dangerous is, that, according to all three of these students known for their scholarship in their respective fields are collective in stating that over the last month, they have seen strong solidarity among teachers, students and intellectuals. They are witnessing hope in the shape of numerous protest marches, cultural activities and bringing in supportive voices from across the country and beyond. All this has never happened before. To sum it up in Bhattacharya’s words, “If you want to counter this goonda-raj and rampant attack on civil liberties, on our freedom to eat, speak, write, love, think and study, and if you want to live in a free country, then please stand with us, by us and with JNU.”