Voices from JNU

Voices from JNU

‘These curbs could now extend to the classrooms’

Prof A. K Ramakrishnan

Prof A. K Ramakrishnan

What happened on 9 February and onwards does not constitute a crime and in no way sedition. There have been some alleged slogans in bad taste but that should have been dealt with at the internal level.

A university is a place where different ideas, opinions and political positions are not only asserted but debated, discussed and fought at the level of ideas. Whatever goes on in intellectual sphere need not necessarily be in consonance with public morality and concerns of law among others because the expansion of intellectual realm demands thinking out of the box.

Take the concept of a nation for example. Here different ideas of it would be discussed, which demands going beyond the traditional national borders. One need not privilege the notion of ‘nation-state’ within an intellectual atmosphere. And so considering such positions, slogans and debates in classroom discussions and intellectual sphere should not be brought under the purview of crime let alone sedition because in an intellectual place this is a common thing and not breaking of law.

Universities, where ideas are freely exchanged, will always speak truth to power particularly when the power makes extreme forms of ideological and nationalist assertions

To debate and discuss is not only the freedom of expression guaranteed under constitution but also part of institutional autonomy. Once the autonomy from the state is obtained, intellectual and political activities are conducted within the campus by debates, discussions at ideological levels. The students and the teaching communities link themselves with the society through interaction with its members. And this is why many of the political movements are born in universities across most of the societies. If these institutions are not independent and do not offer criticism of established norms, seldom would any changes be witnessed in any society. The concept of institutional autonomy is paramount for the independent development of larger realm of ideas.

The way the government responded to this issue certainly undermined the autonomy of this institution and can be construed as an intrusion both in its ideological sense and also in sending the police to the campus.

If the intellectual space in university is not free from the direct state intervention, state will always be ascertaining its interest over knowledge production. This will stifle the way teaching, debates, discussions, intellectual positions are held in the campus. To me the classroom, the hostels and the dhabas within the campus all are an extension of this intellectual space which are thoroughly interlinked.

My fear is if it is now the meetings and slogans, this could extend to the classrooms next. In classrooms we discuss things which for other persons who are out of the purview of the course may sound objectionable. This kind of action by the government will ultimately result in surveillance of the activities of the academic community. It will also create a situation of fear where self-censorship would prevail thereby resulting in shrinking the vistas of knowledge in the longer run.

Universities, where ideas are freely exchanged, will always speak truth to power particularly when the power makes extreme forms of ideological and nationalist assertions. As the critique of that kind of a state and its ideology, the university becomes a critical enterprise.
Professor A K Ramakrishnan, School of International Studies.



‘We’re being directly targetted from top to bottom’

I was taken aback as to how the university was branded and the way police came inside and started picking up students. This happened for the first time at least in my 25 years of being here. It was unfortunate to see some of the slogans which were certainly in bad taste, but the response was far more dreadful.

We have to see minutely as to who allowed the police to enter the campus in complete breach of institutional autonomy. The police react the way they always do, but for me the sole onus lies on the JNU administration.

The problem is that people do not understand that JNU is a social mother to so many downtrodden, Dalit, tribal and other socially excluded marginalised sections of the people. It has contributed to the positives of the society, but some people are just maligning this great institution.  How come all of a sudden we will turn against our own country? And by the way ‘India’ as an entity is not so fragile that it will be demolished by few slogans or like that. We are being directly targeted and decimated from top to bottom. That is a really worrisome issue. It also worries me to see so many institutions of the country turning against JNU. This has to be resisted.

Professor Vivek Kumar, Centre for Social Systems, School of Social Sciences



‘It is so unfortunate to see the government mobilising media against JNU’

As journalist P Sainath said here in a public meeting sometime ago, “This is what is to be expected from the government. So this is nothing to be surprised about although it is something to be shocked about.” I think on same lines though I didn’t expect it to happen to JNU. However, the trend in which the government is taking the country ahead, this seems to be a logical conclusion of it. This systematic curbing of institutions all across India starting from FTTI, HCU and now JNU is something that has to be questioned by everyone.

The government completely overstepped and overreacted to the whole issue. It was not at all necessary as such programs are part and parcel of the JNU culture and these should be very much part of other universities as well where any sort of the free thinking has to be promoted. So bringing in police and letting them get involved in this is inexplicable.

It is so unfortunate to see the government mobilising media and through their support propagating to tax payers about how their money is getting wasted through this funding to these universities. Even though being completely a non-issue, this is being done to turn away the focus of people from the government’s failures on many fronts.

People should be happy that the universities like these are places which are a microcosm with students from every nook and corner with varied socio-economic backgrounds studying together. These central universities happen to be now the last places where we can have an inclusive education. So this attack is very shocking. This is something government should feel for itself rather than there being so many outcries from the public to make it realise this.

The current happenings in this university are representative of the conflicts that are occurring across the country between the right and secular ideologies. And government knows that spaces like this university and other public funded institutions are the only spaces where Leftist ideologies are still very much part of the discourse. This seems to be a strategic move of the government to limit such spaces and stifle the alternative thought which goes against it.

To name anything that goes against the government as ‘anti-national’ is completely illogical. One has to consider this struggle in terms of definitions, as an analytical struggle as to what do concepts like nationalism, anti-nationalism and sedition mean. What does it means to be a patriot or an activist? I think it is forcing us to reflect on how these very definitions are being used by the government through the media to mobilise popular support and incite people into taking law into their own hands. That is a very dangerous trend which any conscious and concerned citizen should be aware of and resist.

Ashwin, Doctoral Scholar, Centre for Philosophy, School of Social Sciences


‘It was an attempt to kill the whole idea of a university’

Premanand Mishra__400

Premanand Mishra

The incident was really unfortunate but in the manner university was put on media trial and mishandled by government was shocking. It was an attempt to kill the whole idea of a university. We need to remember universities are nothing but in Tagore’s word: a place where mind should be without fear. Dissent and revolt are two different things. Calling JNU a hub of terrorists was not only objectionable but an attack on Indian democracy itself.

The government responded as if it was a matter of a threat to national security. There were just a handful of students who raised some slogans which were objectionable and should be condemned. However, undermining university mechanism and believing doctored videos and exploiting colonial legacy of sedition charges against students is a sign of dark days and a very narrow understanding of democracy.

The foremost issue here is ideological hatred towards JNU. The whole exercise of monopolizing nationalism is a sorry state of affairs. In the last one year any voice against the misrule of the government has been categorised as treason. Intolerance is a defining feature of the present day political culture here. If universities are not allowed to have free debates or right of dissent then it would be better to announce emergency.

Premanand Mishra, Research Scholar, Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies



‘Govt’s crackdown on dissent is in conjunction with its ideological mentors’

Mohammad Yunis

Mohammad Yunis

It was shocking as to how the media portrayed the whole incident and within hours the JNU community was described as anti-Indian. But now I see it in a more positive sense. In this precarious situation after being denigrated by certain sections, this is the time to reflect upon ourselves and come back more strongly to fight the divisive forces and continue the tradition of our predecessors. See the beauty of JNU, we responded to all the criticism by organising lectures on the very themes of nationalism, etc, we are accused of being antithetic to.

The government overstepped in its response and the university’s autonomy was breached. Even if there was some wrongdoing, it was imperative to follow the internal mechanism of the university and not send the police into the campus, raid the premises and arrest the democratically elected union president and harass others. Take the case of Jadavpur University in West Bengal. There the university administration didn’t let the police enter the campus as they sought to deal with the issue internally.

By these actions the government certainly gives the reflection that it will not allow any type of dissent against any of its policies. This goes in conjunction with the politics of the ideological mentors of the ruling dispensation.

Muhammad Yunis Alam, Doctoral Researcher, School of Languages.



‘It’s a result of the ideology being followed in the garb of nationalism’

The current happenings make it amply clear that things were strategically planned by the ruling dispensation through its conduits in the campus only to get political mileage from the same. The motive behind is that since the JNU has been at the forefront of criticising the government and this is a way to silence that voice that rises from here. It is this University that leads from the front be it Hyderabad incident, FTTI, fellowship issues among others.

The government has not only overstepped but overreacted in this issue. While some of the slogans were certainly not in good taste but the government bypassed all the internal mechanism of an autonomous institution.

All this, of course, is the result of a particular ideology being forwarded in the garb of ‘nationalism’ by the ruling dispensation. The JNU happenings only offer a reflection of the same. As historian Prof Romila Thaper said few days ago that it is now an open fight between ‘religious nationalism’ and ‘secular nationalism’. It is events like these which in the broader perspective will provide us an opportunity to rise to the occasion.

Masoom Alam, Research Scholar, Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences.


Interviews and photos: A Waseem

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