Student Resistance against Authoritarianism in JNU
THE two years of the Modi regime has seen unbridled and systematic attacks over the higher educational institutions in particular to further the RSS’ agenda of Hindutva.
In the latest of these attacks, the witch-hunt of students continues in JNU with harsh punishments to students based on the recommendations of a farcical High Level Enquiry Committee (HLEC). Students have been fined from Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 and some have been rusticated for different lengths of time; one student has been declared out of bounds from the campus for five years. It is important to underline that similar modus operandi was used in the Hyderabad Central University as well, which eventually led to the tragic institutional murder of Rohith Vemula.
JNU students have decided to reject any form of punishment based on the farcical recommendations of the HLEC. This follows from the unanimously passed mandate of the University General Body meeting of the students, which had resolved to oppose any punishment based on the recommendations of the HLEC report.
HLEC- FARCE IN THE
NAME OF ENQUIRY
HLEC was formed to look into the ‘acts of indiscipline’ in the February 9 incident, which has now assumed significance much larger than the scale of the campus. As a matter of routine, all matters involving students and ‘acts of indiscipline’ are looked at by the proctor’s office. However, in this case, the proctorial committee was dissolved arbitrarily and replaced by a “high level” committee, headed by Prof RK Bhatnagar. Prof Bhatnagar is an ideologue and mentor of an anti-reservation outfit “Youth for Equality”. The then chief proctor, Prof Krishna Kumar has resigned on this arbitrary manner in which first the proctorial committee was formed and dismissed within hours to be replaced by the HLEC. There was no clarity on the ‘terms of reference’ of the HLEC.
Students and teachers from starting demanded that the composition of the HLEC be changed to include woman, SC/ST/OBC/Minority and representation from the School of Social Sciences to ensure that the enquiry process was unbiased to maximum extent possible. Even though two members were added to the committee later, in practical terms it meant nothing much since the so-called enquiry process was over by then. JNUSU council now demanded that since the composition of the committee had changed hence the enquiry must start afresh, with ‘terms of reference’ of the committee, being made public.
JNUSU council had decided to boycott the enquiry process given the biased and farcical nature of the entire procedure. The recommendations of the committee have been made based on the one sided depositions made by the ABVP and some security officers. The report of the judicial magistrate expresses further doubt on the entire process since it shows how the chief security officer actually backtracked from his statement made to the HLEC. These punishments are clear violations of the principle of natural justice.
The JNUSU joint secretary from the ABVP too has been fined by the administration to create a smoke screen of neutrality. However, the role played by this ‘student representative’ in the Academic Council meeting of May 10, should be enough for anyone to judge his loyalty towards the administration. In the AC meeting, he not only demanded stricter punishments against the students, but also went on to paint all the teachers in support of the students as the ‘Pakistani agents’.
Apart from these procedural flaws, the quantum of punishments are simply unheard and clearly smack of a motive of vendetta against the student movement, which has stood tall despite the best of efforts of the RSS-BJP.
Students of JNU decided to go on indefinite hunger strike against these authoritarian assaults. It needs to be underlined that these are the times of end-semester examinations and submissions for the students. Despite this, the manner in which the struggle has been carried on is only a pointer to the resolve of the JNU student movement.
The mode of protest for any movement depends on the reading of the concrete situation and on the fact whether or not it will be able to mobilise maximum number of people or not. Apart from this, it was also important to generate solidarity actions across the country.
Students have resolutely carried on the hunger strike, which has now entered 14th day. They have done this despite falling health and dipping energy in scorching heat of May. Artistes, intellectuals, trade unions, youth organisations, women organisations and people from all sections have joined the struggle of students. Despite this, the shameless administration tried every possible trick to dilute the struggle. Notifications were issued ‘advising’ the JNUSU and JNUTA to not invite the ‘outsiders’ who may cause threat to the peace of the campus. This ‘outsider’ reference was to the JNU alumni who had given a call to come to the campus in solidarity with the students.
Academic Council meeting of May 10 became a flash point at which the administration could no longer ignore the question. The insensitive approach of the administration should be clear from the fact that the issue of HLEC was not even present on the original agenda. Chairpersons and deans ensured that it was discussed in the meeting. VC and his coterie found the situation so difficult to handle that he not only adjourned the meeting, but also ran away from the meeting site to the administrative block. A press release by the administration later claimed that the meeting was sabotaged by a section of teachers and their student supporters. It also claimed that the students manhandled the VC. 52 members of JNU Academic Council sign a resolution against the punishments based on the farcical HLEC report and against the manner in which the chair, ie, the VC, conducted the meeting.
JNU is not alone in the struggle against the RSS’ assaults. HCU, FTII, Allahabad University have all become symbols of resistance throughout the country. The indefinite relay hunger strike of the students of HPU, under SFI’s leadership has entered 34th day now. They are fighting against the educational mess, which is directly created by the VC, AND Bajpeye - a known RSS person. The CEC of SFI called for solidarity one-day hunger strikes across the country in support of the ongoing struggles. Programmes were organised in numerous places and this helped to build momentum in support of the JNU movement.
What we are seeing today, is a catalytic role, which students are fulfilling in the struggle against the RSS’ assault on democracy. The struggle inside JNU in this context cannot be seen in isolation of the larger assault of the Hindutva-neoliberal combine. As this regime progresses forward, the struggle might take different shapes and different turns, but student movement will have to be aware of this fact. There are many who are seeing vanguard possibilities in the ongoing student agitations. Such dramatic extrapolation would do injustice to the actual possibilities, which the present moment offers us.