March 28, 2020
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Jhandewalan Can't Bully Us Into Silence

PhD scholars Umar and Anirban talk about their experience of JNU and why joining the dots is the key right now

Jhandewalan Can't Bully Us Into Silence

Having spent our undergraduate days in Delhi University, coming to JNU for post-graduate studies brought a sea-change to our lives. It appeared that an ocean of possibilities had opened up in terms of the ideas, concerns and issues one could deliberate, argue against or reckon with. In common parlance here in the campus, we refer to this phenomenon as “Isko JNU ho gaya hai!”

But what does this really mean? It means that we start asking questions, we start interrogating the “givens” that we grew up with in our society, in our own families. It’s a process of intense unlearning and learning afresh. Here in JNU what we are taught in classrooms in the day about, say, tribal history only got further nuanced by night in the public meetings on, say, adivasi land-grab by corporates. They both complement each other and there is certainly truth in the claim that in JNU we learn a lot more outside our classes. So, JNU teaches us to question, to be critical, to be socially sensitive to the issues of the oppressed and the under-­privileged, to break the status quo and—most dangerously—to make connections and join the dots. This is what a university is supposed to do: expand the horizons of one’s thought-universe limitlessly. And it is precisely this role of a university that is threatening the corridors of power today.

So, while the UPA’s tool of Lyngdoh committee recommendati­ons (based on the Birla-Ambani Report on higher education) asked us to refrain from what it called “unnecessary politicisation”, NDA’s Venkaiah Naidu today warns us not to do politics and be “good students”. They do not want us to make connections or to think “too much” beyond our textbooks. The Modi government with its agenda of saffronisation only wants us to have a one-track Brahminical-Hindutva mindset. Its other agenda of privatisation (or fund cuts/fee hikes/cancellation of scholarships/invitation to foreign universities) wants us to only bother about our careers, to stop caring about the maladies of the society, become subservient to the forces of the market and become cogs in their wheels.

It’s not about exorbitant fines or rustications or evictions. Today the fight is about preserving the space for dissent.

They want us to forget about public-funded institutions wherein the fact that the society pays for one’s education makes one wish to give something back to it. Instead, they want to stop subsidies, stop scholarships, stop social justice, make education a commodity that’s affordable for a few (read the dominant caste and privileged class), make us take loans and then care only about ourselves and how to repay the loan. They wish to pack us into little, convenient boxes. All of these plans get shattered when against all odds we insist on making connections, when we insist on thinking, on questioning. Rohith for them became a threat because he started connecting Dalit issues with those of the minorities. JNU becomes a threat because we connect Occupy UGC with Kiss of Love!

So, if one questions caste, one becomes a “casteist”; if one speaks up against communalism, one becomes “communal”, if one speaks of democracy, one becomes “anti-nat­ional”. Rohith, his friends and we in JNU have all been found guilty of all these charges. It’s not a coincidence. It’s a pattern.

Our guilt is already decided. Then the puppets—the Appa Raos, the Jagdeesh Kumars, the Gajenders—are supposed to reach the predetermined conclusions through “show-trials” in the name of high-level enquiry committees. We do not accept this farce named HLEC and the punishments based on its “findings”. It’s not about some exorbitant fines, or rustications or evictions. The fight today is about preserving the space for dissent.

The responsibility of students across the campuses today is to rebel, to build barricades against fascism, to rise in rage. The more they try to segregate, to isolate, to pack us into boxes, the more we need to connect, to contextualise, to build solidarities. So, for us ‘Stand with JNU’ means to Stand with HCU, to Stand with Kashmir, with Maruti workers, with Bastar adivasis, with Dalits in Ramabai Colony, with the Muslims of Hashimpura, with Vidarbha farmers, with HLGBTIQ rights, with Rohith Act, with the ideas of Bhagat Singh, with the vision of Ambedkar. No HLEC and no Jha­ndewalan can browbeat us into silence.

(Authors are research scholars at JNU)

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