Break In JNU Tradition

Jawaharlal Nehru University a Unique place of learning

Radhakanta Barik

Jawaharlal Nehru University as a space brings dreamers with poor and rich. The poor students can't dream in other places as life gets squeezed out of them. I was a student in Ravenshaw college, Cuttack, where expenditure in hostel was Rs60 which was managed by doing tuition and some from my parents. In 1972 I could get Rs. 250 from my father and uncle 250 and entered into JNU and got a scholarship of Rs.100 and which shaped my personality. Hostel expenses amounted to be Rs 60 for three meals where as in Cuttack for two meals. Room rent was Rs. 20. I could dream and became Professor in Delhi. Three years back I met two tribal students from Odisha could study in JNU because of scholarship. They came to Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teenmurti where they argued with a leading historian of Delhi University Prof BiswamayPati speaking on Hinduism in Odisha. This is JNU which makes a family of poor and rich who turn into dreamers. Attack on students on JNU by Delhi Police whose Commissioner today shared my room when he came to study in DU.

JNU has a well-established institutional framework for settling conflicts and disputes. Sudhir Kumar Sopory, the Vice Chancellor before the present VC used to say that he did not have armed guards while whichever universities he visited the VCs were having the armed guards. This is a symbolic importance of his power and authority in the campus. He used to negotiate with the students through the elected representatives, teachers through their leaders and Karmacharis through their elected members. They used to meet in the highest body that is Executive Council and to settle the issues through a dialogue. There was no fear of these communities in the campus for which the VC was moving without armed guards. Today the situation has changed with the arrival of Jagdesh Kumar who does not agree with the elected bodies. They do not meet and discuss the issues affecting the academic community. Only way bringing the CRP to the campus to create fear in the minds of the inmates of university. Without discussing he raised the fee which is going to change the inclusive nature of the university. Politics of university started with the first VC G Parthasarathy who handled students with a mystical smile without any spoken word. When gheraoed by students but his smile settled after 12 hours. BD Nagchaudhuri used to listen to arguments raised by the student leaders. Prof Alagh went to the hostels and settled the disputes. Prof Sapory worked through institutional framework to settle disputes and conflicts. Conflicts strengthen the university body and gave name to outside the world. It is a university where people keep in engaging in debates and dialogues and they do not carry guns or pistols or abuses like other universities. The present VC imagined himself as a king as the RSS teaches that only kings can rule this society. His power is derived from the image of a king that negotiation with the other members is being ruled out.

India is celebrating 150th anniversary of Gandhi for the whole year announced by Modi government. But they do not respect Gandhi's invention of peaceful resistance to oppressive power. This is reflecting in the case of Kashmiri when whole people are suffering from curfew under the military rule. JNU is protesting against the fee hike which got brutal police action. This is the best way of celebrating Gandhi's 150th anniversary. Why does Modi government increase fee in JNU? It's not to collect a little more money for exchequer. The RSS agenda was given to Modi-2 that abrogation of 370 and reservation policy. To implement it best way is to increase the fee that they can't come for higher studies.

JNU is an idea, image and imagination. With the present struggle by students has strengthened the idea that a student's age is a lover's age. Like lover struggles to realize love, students struggle to keep their liberal openness of a tradition which can sustain debate, dialogue and decision. Fee hike is being done by the VC without maintaining the tradition of debate. Struggle sustains enlarged imagination. Winning a battle against the fee hike sustains the image of an inclusive nature of JNU. A great victory in the march for democracy is against authoritarianism. It seems that withdrawal of fee hike has not been done but a false assurance has been given to them.

JNU as a campus brings a convergence politics and ideas. In the world of ideas those are engaged they cannot be far away from politics. It is politics throws problems; scientists create ideas related to problems. Only methods are independent of politics. But the research findings are thrown into cauldron of politics. This is where JNU as a campus cannot be devoid of politics. The history of campus tells you politics of a society. In the early phase researchers were engaged in political movements such as kisan to working class to tribal movements. They relook the history of national movements as these movements are located in the context of history. Then the problems of ethnicity and caste which kept the researchers busy. In the last decade they are keeping engaged with communalism, fascism and democracy. Here the Hindutva is allergic to their rigorous methods having a historic sense. They are not averse to politics but methods and research findings create an irritation in their minds. When they came to power in 1977, they banned history books written by historians. Then their aversion to historical research made them attacking historical methods. They want a historical problem to be a political football as the Babri Masjid issue. But their fear of methods applied by the scholars expose their shallowness. They have gone to all most all universities where their dialogues with students made them worried. This fear of truth has brought the present regime convinced that existence of JNU float new ideas and enlarge public imagination and the image of JNU stands over it.

Modi as Prime Minister is facing two important problems: one is economic recession where JNU can provide some answers. When Indira Gandhi arrested many students from JNU, her important advisors in foreign policy, economy and social policy were from JNU. She took their help for a solution to the problems. Manmohan Singh took help of those scholars but Modi's finance minister is from JNU but not his economic advisors. The second problem Modi is confronting the issue of Kashmir which requires JNU people but his foreign minister is from JNU but not his advisors in foreign policy. Kashmir problem got solved with the help of G Parthasarathy as VC working as advisor to Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Modi's myopic view of a university has made him to send paramilitary forces to JNU. This cannot destroy JNU an idea, but try to affect its image like fake video but surely not imagination.

JNU as an idea threatens the intellectual basis of Hindutva. Hindutva is based on a bundle of prejudices. Idea works on transformation of a society. Their fear of an image of an egalitarian society made the present ruling elite wearing expensive suits nervous. An average JNUite wears a simple kurta, pyjama and a thali does not need any expenditure whereas expensive suits incurred a huge amount which requires misappropriation of public money or support from a corrupt industrialist. Their attack on a plebian image requires fake video for propagating an alternative view as anti-national boomeranged them. Nobody can obstruct an imagination as imagination survives when blacks were kept as slaves they produced the rock music. Attack on imagination has further enlarged like Valmiki sitting without any support produced the Ramayana. JNU as a thinking place can't be controlled by branding them as urban terrorists. It's a fertile ground which geminates new ideas in social sciences and natural sciences. It's going to produce many Abhijit Banerjees as JNU stands for an idea, image and imagination.

JNU is an idea, image and imagination. JNU alumni Odisha branch got Infuriated today. Hundreds of old JNUites came to attend the meeting. Learning in JNU is an experience which has enlarged imagination of each. Each met the other with a deep feeling of warmth. It has a plebian culture. Where ever you are be chief secretary to police commissioner to Professor forget your old identity and be a part of an imagination where debates, questioning, gossiping over wine, coffee make us leave an image that someone becomes anyone. No distinction among class, caste and senior vs junior creates a feeling and joyful moment among us. It gives a hope that Odisha will be a more imagined place after the event today. It's a signed statement of hundreds.

What are the reasons behind making JNU a known place not because of its brilliance as the IITs are more known in terms of brilliance? In an interview with a young aspirant from Kottayam that she jumped twice when she heard that she got into JNU. This thrilling experience makes it known as if they got into a good job. Yes it is an academic place but it has maintained a tradition of learning from the outside world. This was the tradition of learning during the national movement that most of the universities or Colleges used to link with the outside world. Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and Patna have a close association with people who are active in national movement. For instance, BHU established long back it has no such link with its surroundings. Some years back in conducting a study regarding the BHU and its impact on its neighborhood I found to my dismay that it has very limited impact on the backwards and dalits of the 20 KMs around the campus. It has no impact on agricultural communities despite it has a well-known agricultural institute.

JNU has a tradition of politics of empathy. Its students used to go to work among working class and their children working in construction works. Some of them took up the cause of bonded labour of Asiad during 1982. Students go far off places for helping such as Tsunami in Tamilnadu, Super cyclone in Odisha, Earthquake in Maharashtra and flood in Bihar. This makes them more known than other known public institutions. They conduct research work taking problems affecting people or regions. The best example is the Ravenshaw University where students write their M Phil dissertations but without related to local society. For instance, there is no monograph on Biren Mitra, Biju Patnaik or Naba Krishna Choudhury etc. leaders of Odisha. While teaching there I raised this issue but no impact. I get shocked that once they get their M Phil degrees they destroy their dissertations. This does not happen in JNU that good or bad dissertations are being kept in library for reference purposes. JNU has a multi-faceted political tradition explaining left and right. This is the strength of JNU. In the past JNU used to get some belonging to ABVP of the students’ wing of the BJP but most of them after joining JNU turned into liberals or left.

JNU has students from all over India from distant corners such as Manipur to Kerala. Majority of students come from the Bhojpuri belt which perhaps create fear in the minds of the Hindutva as their leaders hail from the same place. Modi and Yogi get elected from this region. Second group come from Kerala then followed by Bengal. There are students from Maharashtra but very few from Gujarat. One looks at social composition of JNU students then one finds the dalits, backwards and tribals are the single dominant group in JNU. In class terms there has been change. In our time elite specifically students studying in European Universities came back to study in JNU. Some children belonging to industrialists have come to JNU. But today it seems that children are not coming from that social background. Around forty percentages of students come from poorer background. This brings the class composition of the JNU community. 

The present phase of politics perhaps the best fight against the Hindutva after the last year’s struggle of students of the Film Institute of Pune and TISS from Bombay. These students are facing bullets but the international media is giving a good coverage where some channels in India speaking against them in vulgar words such as how many condoms one finds in the dustbin of the university as if some of them went to JNU for counting the number. Such a poor mentality of these people get exposed as they do not have a tradition of debating or dialogue as the RSS does not believe in. Most of the public institutions in India are facing the problem of fee hike where students are angry and but their inability to protest against these actions of the government. In School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi students are complaining that in year twice fee hike has been done. In talking to their student representative one finds that they do not bother about them and their views. In the era of privatization and profit making the present government is ready to take up the higher education to be monopolized by the rich and powerful by which they do not protest against the present regime.

Going by the auto from the JNU campus, the driver raised an interesting point that this is the best campus in India and the students working hard here and built their careers here. As his memory of not been able in educating himself pained him. That such a campus with so little expenditure he could have got higher education. Absence of realizing his dreams is being felt every moment by carrying boys and girls from JNU. On inquiry he found that I was an old student and coming here off and on for various academic assignments. He started putting a question that what was the difference of the campus your time and today. In explaining him in simpler words that this campus allows to build career of students and it has the best teachers and best library and laboratory. But he felt pain that students were on strike and they were wasting time and they should have worked hard in their studies to make career. Then I explained a finer point in JNU life which he would not understand that politics was a career and involving in strike and other political activities would help them in building a career in politics. Some top political leaders of the present regime raised the similar point that students had come here to make a career in studies not doing political activity. They look politics and study in a binary manner where as in JNU every activity is a part of politics and a part of career. That explains the aspirations of an average student of JNU that he or she takes up a job for livelihood but keeps something internal to his or her life which they work hard to realize it. Be it academic or civil service or writer or scientist. There is something artistic and finer thing in life which one struggles to achieve it. Today students understand the philosophy of JNU and struggling to realize those dreams for which they have come to this place from far off place from various social and economic backgrounds. Let them celebrate their lives by studying and struggling to realize their passions and dreams.

Prof Radhakanta Barik

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Vol. 52, No. 24, Dec 15 - 21, 2019