Much water has flowed under the Yamuna bridge — dirty though — since the February 9 “cultural” event inside the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)campus, against what the organisers called the “judicial killing” of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. That this snowballed into a major controversy is a reflection of the times we live in. With horror, one witnessed Kanhaiya Kumar, a student leader, getting arrested under the colonial-era sedition law, while the police are looking for other student organisers of the event where “anti-India” and “pro-Pakistan” slogans were allegedly raised.
At the same time, police showed supreme inaction when it came to booking lawyers who assaulted journalists and the arrested student leader, while he was being produced in court following his arrest.
A section of the media too indulged in manufacturing lies and spreading rumours, which may in turn have incited political goons to raise frenzy against students of this premier institution who were merely exercising their democratic right of dissent.
The mud-slinging by politicians and a malicious #ShutDown JNU campaign, that started even before the “cultural” event, appears to be gathering steam, pushed assiduously by social media trolls.
But is it feasible — or desirable — to shut down a historic institution like the JNU, perhaps the finest place for higher education in social sciences?
For an alumnus of JNU, the move to tarnishing an institution with everything that it is not is extremely sad. The fallout is such that even in Facebook News Feeds one sees posts favouring JNU’s destruction, with some writers suggesting that stadiums be built in its place to encourage sports.
Tracking the #ShutDown JNU trail in Twitter shows the type of “nationalism” that is being promoted at the cost of this nation. Sample these:
Rahul MahajanVerified account @TheRahulMahajan Feb 15 #ShutDownJNU: JNU Campus should be declared as prison complex ASAP
Sir Ravindra Jadeja @SirJadeja Feb 10: Before JNU Becomes Jihadi Nurturing University #ShutDownJNU.
JAY @YesIamSaffron Feb 10: The same #JNU Goon who Had Protested RohitVemula Death got in Scuffle with Cops in support of Afzal #ShutDownJNU
The nation that is imagined in most of these tweets is clearly that of an India which is exclusive for only those who believe in a particular ideology.
Contrary to what the so-called nationalists — many self-confessed NaMo fans — preach, the university, through its long struggle, had created a space for India’s diversity to flourish and opinions of various sections of the population to be discussed and debated without intimidation or fear of being humiliated.
Far from being a mouthpiece of the terrorists, JNU has become the voice of the marginalised, the oppressed and the outcasts. If the university has become a laboratory of anything, it is as a spearhead for social transformation. Yes, JNU is not only for those who can afford a higher education; it is an institution that enables the wretched of the earth to aspire.
And No. To get selected to JNU, you do not have to give a deliberate “Marxist twist” — as commonly believed — to your answers in the entrance examination. The topper in my class at the Centre for Political Studies (CPS) was openly rightist.
The teachers at the university do not grade you on the basis of the ideology you believe in. The current JNU Students Union has a member from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student wing of the RSS.
What JNU represents is hope. And I strongly believe that even with the might of the coercive apparatus of the state and support of the rumour mongering mills, it will be impossible to destroy what the university stands for — change. And that’s something you just cannot stop.
(Gokul Bhagabati passed out from JNU in 2007. He can be contacted at email@example.com)