Passion and energy and memory of JNU

Radhakanta Barik

An American scholar in 1960s came to South Asia found that no academician advises his son or daughter to pursue academic life except Bengal. He has published the book "Intellectuals of South Asia," after interviewing scholars of Calcutta, Delhi Jaipur and Bombay and Lahore. This situation remains static as academicians are looked down by the society. Their children want to learn from them but not allow their children to pursue a scholarly life. In a hierarchy of jobs like our caste system academic job gets the lowest preference. This got changed with the coming of JNU when people joined the university to take up an academic life. It brought revolution in mental thinking of Indian youths. JNU has sent teachers to all universities of India which is a gift to building of a nation. Once in the early 1980s, I was going to desert of Rajasthan by Jodhpur Mail. It reaches in the morning and there is a desert express as a connecting train. As our train was late we missed the desert express. I looked for someone from JNU then I found a friend in Geography department. We spent some time with him till the afternoon. We discussed the issues related to academic life in the oldest university of Rajasthan. Prof Ram belonging to Dalit community aspired to be a Professor in the university located in a caste ridden society of Rajasthan. This is a gift of JNU which is being branded by the present Secretary of Higher Education as antiestablishment one. One of my friends Alok Sheel who joined civil service and joined the Kerala cadre whose father was an academician in Agra who used to say that to make a choice of academics in those days is like doing left wing politics. His father after the retirement wanted to stay in his quarter for six months period which was a legal issue got an order to vacate the campus. Accidentally his son got into civil service that year. The moment the result came his father was allowed to retain the quarter. He as a civil servant got his Ph D. and pursued a semi academic life as an economist today.

JNU had a social reforms agenda in the early phase of its establishment. Perhaps this was being reimagined by Ram Mohan Ray that rationalism is the basis of religious belief. People who came with pigtails or people came with pagris and People with long beard all got changed in the first week of their arrival in the campus. So much debates and discussion over each issue including religion changed their outlook. No body condemned the religious outlook of people but they got interested in rational outlook within a religious community. Reforms got pursued by all including changing the food habits. This led to inter caste or inter religious marriages among students.

 Education Secretary of the central government has no moral or political right to give an opinion regarding JNU as antiestablishment institution. He as the head of the Department has to maintain integrity of the department. One of the objectives of the Department is to provide quality education which he is supposed to defend. One of the objectives is this that how to make education inclusive by allowing students from diverse backgrounds to come and study. JNU Students are demanding that the fulfillment of the main objective. In America more than 20 percentages of students go for higher education whereas in India only four percentages of their age group. Such a gap because of high expenditure incurred those going for higher education. Furthermore the main objective of the JNU is defined in the brochure of the university defined by Nehru," University stands for adventurism in ideas" which can be realized only facets of  Tagore's poem get executed by the authority "Where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high,". It is possible only where knowledge is free. This song was hanging in all public institutions and their libraries of Delhi. After Modi came to power 2014 these songs have been removed. Nehru’s view on University was hanging in Indian Institute of Public Administration, Delhi but removed the day Modi came to power. Surely Tagore and Nehru stand for affordable and accessible education. Subrahmanyam is wrong by telling critical consciousness of students as antiestablishment which is unbecoming of him as the Secretary of the Department.

Students of JNU showed their mettle in the last demonstration by adopting songs and music in their activities in the Parliament street. They started singing in three groups and one started painting and writing stories related to resistance against fascism. This is a part of the tradition in JNU. Writers, artists and poets have come out of JNU to support them. This is the strength of JNU which gets experimented while they are in the demonstration. This is a learning lesson from the street that democracy can be defended only on the street. There is no alternative to it in today's India. Some students who were injured by the police action were there. This was the novel action of the state. While we used to go on to street to demonstrate we used to see the present governor of Pondicherry Kiran Bedi there as a young police officer but never ordered firing or caning of the students. But she used to say some abusive words that whereas other universities were silent why did JNU students on the street. It is interesting to note here that students from Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia, AIMS and IIT were there in the last demonstration. This is a better way of fighting bringing all public institutions together which are experiencing the same problems.

JNU provides ideas for expanding one's imagination which attracted writers, artists and film makers to come those days and stay overnight in our hostels. The famous documentary film maker Anand Patwardhan used to visit JNU regularly. His films he used to show to us. Novelists and poets used to be part of our intellectual landscape. They used to work outside but used to stay in our hostels. Some of them became well known poets and novelists in Hindi and got Sahitya Academy awards. With the coming of Hindi and Urdu departments in JNU the scope of creative works increased. As it is located in the Ganga Jamuna cultural belt they benefited out of the campus. Social sciences and international politics provided ideas which got consumed by them. Some of the leading novelists and story writers belong to our community. We used to share the same space with them. Students belonging to these departments always speak in a different tone. This tonality has been heard of by many outside and their intellectual products enter into landscape of literary journals. Perhaps this may be the hidden reason in making present Albert Pinto ka Gusha kyon Hota? Other linguistic groups have benefited but some of the writers belonging to other languages come from JNU. At least in Odiya language there are many writers and journalists belong to JNU.

Students of JNU went on demonstration yesterday from Mandi House to Parliament Street. People from other walks of life such as art, theatre, teaching and journalism and independent scholars and workers and kisans came forward to support them. They walked with them. These students were carrying the placards telling that education is their right. It is this demand motivated JNU students to be on strike for some days. Education cannot be made a commodity and be available to all. Progressively, Commercialization of education has pushed the students belonging economically vulnerable sections out of the higher education. As education is a constitutional right every student has right to go for higher education. JNU being the cheap place to learn, students from all over India came here to study. But it is an interesting point to tell that after walking for three hours they did not feel tired which explains their energies and motivation in leading a struggle against the anti-people government of India. Some of them lied on the ground and started reading a novel that brings out a memory of JNU in our student days. In our time each student was holding a book in their hands. First book which was in every body's hands was the Wretched of the Earth by Franc Fanon. Memory of colonialism was fresh in our minds. Everybody read the book and started discussing the issue of imperialism. Then people started looking for a new book Grundrisse by Karl Marx which got published in that year. It is a book explaining the logic of capitalism before Marx wrote Capital. This brings the issue of another class room which became the dining room of each hostel. After dinner people started discussing the issues related to these books. Those days classes were held in the halls in the down campus. JNU turned into a really learning place from class room to library to dining room. This brings the issue of struggle against injustice in those days. This brings out of JNU students who got involved in study and struggle. This becomes a part of genes of JNU.

JNU as a public funded institution aiming in construction of an inclusive character is the product of progressive phase of Indian politics. It was Indira Gandhi whose Education Minister Prof Nurul Hassan imagined India to be a secular democratic place. In this phase JNU got established with an agenda of inculcating a critical thinking in public. Today privatization and commercialization are the products of the right-wing majoritarian politics of Hindutva aiming in creating a fascist state. Students of JNU are demonstrating not just against the fee hike but against the political agenda of the present regime. Their demand is against the Hindutva mode of politics which is an attack on democracy and secularism. It is against the privatisation of public sector and public institutions. It is aiming for protecting the inclusive character of our public institutions where surreptitiously the reservation in the promotions has been questioned by the court.

 It is against the faith as the basis of modern state. It is for freedom of learning and thinking and speaking out your opinions where people are in the prison branded as the urban Naxal. It is for the citizenship on the basis of birth not on documents. It is for friendly relations with all countries on the basis of nonalignment. it is against the war phobia of the present militaristic regime who have declared war against its own people in J&K by abrogating the Art 370. Demonstration was for reaffirmation of our old values where human being is precious not the religion. Let us begin somewhere it may be the place Mandi House representing literature, film theatre to Parliament House which is symbolizing the politics of democracy and secularism. People joined in large numbers to defend these values of Hindustan not Hindu- stan.

JNU's brochure quotes an observation from Nehru that university stands for adventurism in ideas which is appropriate in the case of scholarship of JNU. Students have taken ideas from society and done wonderful research works. Former Prime Minister of Nepal Bhattarai selected a Ph D topic related to social conditions of Nepali servants in Delhi. He was accepted by the centre for Regional planning and Development to complete the work. It is a thousand pages study which was in a heavy demand when he became the Prime Minister of Nepal.   Debal Dasgupta did a study on Concept of death and birth in Hindu society which was a major work from the centre of Historical studies which needs to be recognized by the Hindutva forces who think themselves as custodians of Hinduism. With the rise of Babri Masjid scholars belonging to JNU published a book containing articles on the controversy. JNU developed scholarship in social sciences and international politics which have a wider implication in the domain of scholarship.

JNU took up the issues affecting international politics such as the fall of Allende regime by the military rule. Tarique Ali  came from London to speak here and there was a demonstration in front of embassy. One year after he was invited to speak on fall of Saigon on Vietnam liberation from American imperialism. That night there was a procession led by some leading Professors such as Amit Bhaduri and Pravat Patnaik to Vietnam Embassy.

JNU involved in political issues affecting nation's life. The Railway strike which drew volunteers from JNU to organise the protest in the Boat club of Delhi. There was a discussion on the JP movement in Bihar where JP himself got invited. During the emergency Students from JNU protested on regular basis. JNU participated in the campaign for the Democracy and participated in the active campaign in favour of the Janata Party.

JNU has a wider legitimacy in front of local society, national politics and international scholarly community. They have contributed to Hinduism which needs to be recognized by the Modi government as it represents the religious views of life.

Economics Professor Dr Choubey questioned me on the ground that I compare JNU with the BHU. But BHU is facing this problem of not getting respect in local society as it has not established its links with local communities. For instance one important community lives around the BHU such as Kurmis. In Sawa Shera Geun story of Premchand, Kurmi farmer is the hero. Their first graduate came from BHU some years back. For instance Patna University is surrounded by the Kurmis a cultivating community. It transformed the community from farmers to engineers and doctors and professors and teachers. But this did not happen around BHU. University plays an important role in reforming the local society in terms of caste and economic reforms. This has not happen around the BHU. Both these universities are central funded universities but one plays an important role in national and local politics of India where as another plays an important institution as custodian of social conservatism that a Sanskrit Professor being not allowed to join by the students just because he belongs to Muslims this would have never happened in the last fifty years of existence of JNU in Delhi. The founder of BHU Madan Mohan Malviya came to school of Jagjivan Ram who topped the Board examination of Bihar and invited him to join the BHU but could not help him to get a hostel seat as he belonged to Dalits. This is recorded in his autobiography of Jagjivan Ram a progressive leader in Congress politics. This situation was prevailing in the University hostels two decades back. Some VCs could supervise the hostel accommodation with the help of police then it got implemented. There are two Pan Shops in BHU campus where you stand a half one hour you listen stories related to caste rather than the discussion social and economic problems of India. Yes as it is a central university some of the best brains joined the campus and made it famous.

JNU creates a lot of passion among youths as they go to the library to study and go to class rooms and discuss and debate with their Professors. They come back and hold discussion after dinner in the dining room. This is an old tradition which has been prevailing for the last five decades. The present Vice Chancellor has banned the after dinner discussions.  He has ordered for the early closure of University Library which is going to harm the academic activities. The present administration is anti-academic in true sense which is a disrespect to a Nobel Laureate Prof Abhijit Banerjee who used to be part of this tradition of dialogue. 

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Nov 29, 2019

Prof. Radhakanta Barik

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