Flashback to the month of February, 2016 – The hullabaloo over a doctored video followed by a stir caused all over the nation and the beginning of a new phase where a premiere institution of learning began its journey being infamously termed as a factory producing nothing but a bunch of LET members. The spring of 2016 after the tumultuous month of February is still fresh in everyone’s minds – the students, the public and the government. And anyone who has been a part of Jawaharlal Nehru University has spent a substantial amount of time in their lives worrying about travelling in public whilst revealing their identity as a JNU student because the ‘anti-national’ branding got so deeply cemented overtime in the public memory that the idea of anarchism and nihilism that the institution otherwise had always proudly upheld gradually started getting overshadowed by the idea of a traitor, a seditionist, an enemy to the state.

But JNU still remained a dream institution for thousands of students like me and we did make our dreams come true when we worked hard enough to clear the otherwise very difficult entrance exam and started our journey in mid-2016. The wounds of the 9th February incident that this institution was made to go through were not even completely healed; but being surrounded by fabulous faculty members whom we had idolized throughout our lives as undergraduates and joining the dread-parade of submitting a million tutorials every week, our adaptation in the academic environment had only begun when we got our first blow on the campus. A student named Najeeb Ahmed disappeared into thin air in the month of October, 2016 after a feud with some members of a particular political organization. The investigations are still going on but no one has been able to come up with any answer so far. And the constant malicious attempts of associating Najeeb with various terrorist organizations has been visible all over the media and the fact that his disappearance was solely a political motive has been completely ignored by a huge section of the society which also includes the JNU Administration. And amidst all this, we are still asking the question to the authority –WHERE IS NAJEEB?

And after this began a series of other disputed events that had affected not only the academic aspect of our lives but has also brought major changes in our roles as a citizen of this nation. On a positive note, it also made a lot of us come out our privileged bubble and realize the injustice that happens to many of us on a regular basis; and these sufferings of the oppressed in the hands of the oppressor were made visible to us through a series of reality checks that even we were not prepared for.

The declaration of the UGC 2016 Gazette Notification and JNU Admission policy where restrictions were put on the number of research scholars that each faculty member could accept along with a reduction of as much as 86% of seats in the 2017-18 intake put the future of many students like us in jeopardy. In a letter that was written by the JNUTA to the UGC Chairperson, it mentioned the violation of the UGC Act of 1956, JNU Act of 1966 and the Central Educational Institutions Act of 2006 and in special regards with the JNU Act as it previously allowed 54% of intake, above the existing norm, putting the institute in a very difficult position. Besides that, the situation in JNU turned out to be even more worrying because the new mandate had restricted the inclusion of awarding deprivation points to students from the backward and marginalized communities only to the Masters programme which was a unique feature followed by the university previously. The written entrance being reduced to a qualifying exam with 100% weightage being given to Viva Voce being the sole factor in deciding the merit of the students led to an outrage amongst the students.

In protests for the roll-back of the notification outside the UGC office, the police not only had a clash with the students but many of them were also detained which included the former President of the Students’ Union too. This was followed a few more major set backs where if on one hand the policy of compulsory attendance of 75% was tried to be introduced on the other hand, absurd ideas like showcasing an army tank in front of the Administrative Building in order instil nationalism in the students was proposed; and not to forget that this idea had been initiated by none other than the honorable Vice Chancellor of the institute.

“Most of the day scholars travel long hours to reach JNU, mostly changing two modes of transportation because even the nearest Metro Station is over 3 kms away until the Munirka metro station becomes fully functional. Besides, it would have made sense had everyone been an on-campus student; but for me to travel for over 4 hours a day just to give a mere signature on a sheet would not just cause a loss of time and money but also the energy that one can use to produce a good research.” - said a day scholar who is awaiting the MPhil/PhD results that has been put on stay by the Delhi High Court due to the five percent unfilled seats for students with disability in the MPhil and PhD courses in the university.

And these testimonies being collected from different students has helped me in learning even more about how a single incident or a single arbitrary imposition by the administration can affect everyone’s lives in different ways.

“One of the big things that people tend to forget especially when it comes to higher education is that there’s a lot of students that come with learning disabilities. I suffer from Dysgraphia and ADHD and making people like me sit in a class for a very long period of time is a tedious process emotionally and physically as we need a lot of breaks in between to catch up with the entire process. And, here at JNU, since I was not supposed to report every single day at class, it makes the learning process very easy because I know that I can compensate somewhere else instead of sticking to the unbreakable pattern of attending classes. The reports that we submit as a part of our coursework take a lot of working hours and the idea of work and leisure is so intertwined over here that you can’t separate one form the other. Where I sleep is where I work. And we don’t even have enough infrastructure that can accommodate 200-300 research scholars at the same time and there is not enough work space available for all the students; besides, more than half of the female students end up living in a dormitory with 10-11 more students for almost a year before getting a hostel seat .When you can’t even accommodate all the students here, how do you expect the students to accept the imposition of even a new bunch of rules and regulations? The policy of attendance should be left to the purview of the teachers and if they are happy with the progress of the students then I don’t see why an arbitrator needs to come in between with a set of rules and regulations. And how do you exactly explain the average living standards of a JNU students? What we need before anything else is the improvement in the living standards of the students and if someone thinks that we, with so many basic problems of our own, are trying to break a nation, I am sorry to say but you are running a banana republic.” – said another student whose identity has also been kept anonymous at the student’s request.

But the recent declaration of the UGC granting full autonomy to 62 Universities and eight colleges with JNU being one of them has probably been the most disturbing attempt to hit the last nail in the coffin. I won’t go any further about the details of how adversely an institute can be affected when it’s declared autonomous as because if one even rummages through the newspapers from 2-3 months ago, one will get a fair idea of how the autonomous status can lead to extreme fee hikes and how it can gradually snatch the dreams of pursuing higher education away from the financially incapable and the deprived communities of the country along with many other drawback associated with this proposal. But I’d definitely want to mention what happened on the day of 23rd March, 2018 when a peaceful march of thousands of students to the Parliament, without causing any inconvenience to anyone, opposing the proposal along with protesting against a case of sexual harassment with a professor being involved, the protest was not only crushed by the armed policemen but also a new angle was given to the story by various media houses. While the students were being thrashed with lathis and water canons, stripped off their clothes in public and then detained by the police on one hand, some particular media houses on the other hand decided to telecast a story of how a march in support of ‘#MassBunk’ was taken out by the students of the varsity, thereby completely dismissing the original story and ignoring the upheavals that country will soon face in terms of saving higher education.

And amidst all these dramatic events, seven Chairperson/ Deans at JNU were removed overnight for not complying with the compulsory attendance policy with a major opposition that the administration had to face from both the students and teachers in the following days. This is when the Teachers’ Association along with the students decided to rage a silent war against the administration and almost all the centres on campus went on a lockdown for an indefinite period of time.

But during the whole process of protests and agitation, we never compromised with our coursework or submissions and we were not even allowed to do so by our professors. If classrooms were shut then classes used to take place at the lawns, garage and even fire exits at times. Unfortunately, the batch who joined in the year 2016 had to learn about this tremendous spirit of learning at JNU through the hard way where we were not only subjected to the various arbitrary and undemocratic rules and regulations but also have been also been left with nowhere to go after the massive seat cuts for the research scholars. But JNU has still managed to be one of the very few institutes who has been defying and refuting the systematic curbing of the educational institutions and turning it into a mere pawn of the government and it will continue to do so.

And it was during this time that I realized that there is revolutionary hidden in all of us and we all can speak up against an authoritarian regime if we muster enough courage to do so and not just be a silent spectator. I have witnessed many of my friends turning from shy and timid personalities turn into fearless agitators who have been at the forefront of these battles in fighting against the authority . And that’s what JNU does to you. The spirit of the place is reflected in the graffiti that you notice everywhere around as soon as you enter the campus, it teaches you to ‘debate and dissent’. It will compel you to speak up as there are not many in today’s time who would like to come out of their cushiony surroundings and speak up instead of uploading a status on social media and do away with the rest of the responsibilities.

But some questions are ought to be raised continuously and its imposition should be continuously resisted. The imposition of a compulsory attendance system especially in an institution which focuses on the academic freedom of the students as its priority or the installation of a battle tank to make the students more patriotic instead of perhaps installing water tanks and provide the hostel taps never run out of water speaks volumes on the intentions of the administration in attempts to kill the spirit of the institute, slowly but surely and one step at a time. The improvisations in the infrastructure and increasing spaces to read in the library should be given more importance than dumping even more extra rules and regulations and only then the University can expect the academic excellence in return.

Due to massive seat cuts most of us are leaving the campus in a month or less as we have completed our M.A. and now with the recent Academic Council Meeting trying to introduce a new centre under the name Centre for Security studies which would also include ‘Islamic Terrorism’ and ‘Insurgency’ as a part of the coursework without introspecting the roots of the causes and no discussions being held over any other issue recurring in the institute for the past two years, somewhere deep inside an urge to disassociate myself with an institution that takes such absurd decisions is getting stronger with each passing day. But above anything else, the most important question that no one has been able to answer and the one that we should still continue asking is - Where is Najeeb? What happened to him? And who takes the responsibility of his disappearance? And what do we, as a nation, answer his mother when she asks us about her son?