Time and again, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has come under the scrutiny of the masses. Right from media trials of the issues happening at the campus to the raising concerns about events taking place in the country, here is an extensive and expansive, multi-dimensional lens from a student studying at the University about the latest protests regarding the proposed fee-hike, taking place at JNU.
I am a student of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Throughout the University’s turbulent history with opinions and ideas concentrated in political sphere with controversies emerging out of them, one fact remains constant.
Consistently ranked among the top universities in India and world, JNU has claimed its much deserved place in the academic arena. Rather than acknowledging my university as one of the best in the world, it is more often than not seen as a political ground; dominated by the left ideology. So for obvious reasons, any issue that originates here is put under the veil of political spirit.
On the 28th of November, the Inter Hall Administration called a meeting in which the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) was informed 15 minutes prior to it, via e-mail. Till the time the JNUSU and other students could make it, the hostel manual was passed.
Fast forward today, it’s almost been a month with students here, protesting against the draconian fee structure. I lay out some vital points for your better understanding of the ongoing strike and the triggering force behind it:
- More than 40% of the students of JNU comprise of the students coming from humble backgrounds where their family income does not exceed more than INR 12000 a month. If the fee hike is to happen for real, they (40%) would be immediately wiped off the face of JNU.
- JNU, by its very nature, has been known to out loud criticise the government and point out the fallacies that exist in the system. A hub for left wing ideas, as it is seen, it sure is to develop resistance from the right wing and its supporters. Hence, a political inclination is assigned here to a non-political protest.
- The mainstream media, which is followed by the majority of the general public, has grown to become unreliable and is known to shift its ground; driven by politics, has been manipulating facts and showing them in a different and distorted light. However, there are a few media houses who put out straight facts before the public and show the actual situation of what’s happening in here. Many students who take admission here were of the same opinion before living in the campus and knowing the nature of the university. It’s simple: people will believe what is fed to them.
- In JNU, the population of female students is greater than the male students. This promotes girl education and female literacy in a country like India, where patriarchy is still prevalent and people here come from the remotest of areas, breaking the shackles. This shows how the university attracts students from all over India, not from a particular section.
- From the child of a tailor to the child of an IPS to even entrepreneurs, there is diversity in its true sense in our campus. We all sit down together as a community where it doesn’t matter what backgrounds we come from. Here, we are all equal.
- Take the very basic example of our campus not having popular eateries like CCD, Subway, much like other colleges. This is because it creates a divide. People who can afford will visit these eateries, while people who can’t, simply won’t. To avoid any kind of divide where people lose their sense of equality is the primary reason our campus does not have fancy eateries. Everything on here is planned. This shows how the university has maintained its idea for years and how the new fee structure will shake the very basis of it.
- Student activists and speakers here question the monetary privilege those in power get to ‘enjoy’. The construction of two hostels was underway which now is unheard of. It all boils down to one question: Where did the money go? The VC, this shows, is incompetent and JNU refuses to accept his idiosyncratic behaviour and asks for his immediate resignation. All the questioning that happens around here is the evident of how JNU is the center of all the intellectually stimulating debates and ideas that refuse to remain latent. How students here are to stay, exercise their rights, hold on to each other, collecting their existence into a string of unbreakable unity that fears no higher force.
- The new Hostel Manual, that talked about curfew timings and Dress Code agitated the students all over the University. As people here come from all over India, coming from places we haven’t heard of, they’ve grown up in quite conservative environments with them not being allowed to step out of their houses at night and being expected to maintain a ‘decent’ dress code, JNU must have felt a better form of liberation. Here, we can roam around our massive campus at any given time safely, to any nook and corner. Students here wear whatever they want to because there are no confinements. One of the very few universities that allows girls to enter in the boys’ hostel. The new set of rules indeed contributed to the patriarchal culture. Though these set of regulations have been scraped, students demand a complete rollback on the fee hike, to this date.
- The biggest myth about the ongoing protest is that the fee hike is from ?10 to ?300. Sorry to burst your bubble, but we already pay around INR 3000 a month as our mess bills. That will shoot up to around INR 7000 a month. It will include service charges, electricity and water bill, increment in admission fees, utility charges. JNU, after the fee hike, would be the most expensive central university in India. Affordable education? What’s that, again?
- A partial rollback had happened a few days ago, which the students had out-rightly rejected, terming it a ‘lie’. A complete rollback is what the student community is fighting for, and will continue to do so.
- JNU, known for its poster making culture, has always been very open to the idea of expressing agitation, emotions and opinions by penning them down on paper, colouring their views across the walls and exhibiting them for the world to see. The Freedom Square, which is the main administrative building, was taken by the students on one of the protesting days, which they painted the whole building in, making sure that their voices be heard, loud and clear.
- The protests, as the general public knows, is not always about the ‘shows’ that attract news channels and media houses, with JNU again being the headline of the national mainstream media. No media house would show how peaceful our protests are, with students singing songs of revolution over a cup of chai and debates. Almost every alternate day, different centres of JNU organise this programme, that goes by the name ‘Guerrilla Dhaba’. Besides, every hostel organises their own cultural programme that includes students performing and discussing the implications and consequences of the new fee structure, and how it would affect their lives.
- On the 17th of November 2019, students in huge numbers took to the streets of Delhi to march to the Parliament for their voices to be heard. A proper guideline was published a day before which clearly mentioned how to go about the march without disturbing and blocking the roads causing inconvenience to the public. The Police Forces, appointed in huge numbers, did not spare the peacefully protesting students and detained them in hundreds, laathi charging students so as to disperse them and break their unity. They even shut the three nearest metro stations so that they don’t escape, and no form of help is provided to them. In the process, many students got hurt who were not allowed medical help, too. Students who were detained mentioned how the police officers were treating them and particularly the female students. One word for this incident: shameful.
- Seeing the critical conditions in the campus with academic activities being heavily hampered, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) forms a committee to listen to the concerns of the students. The meeting happens, we are promised a positive outcome soon. Fast forward a few days, nothing fruitful is gained out of the meeting. Administration, on the other hand, releases notices every other day appealing students to get back to classes and resume their academic work, retaining the normalcy of the campus. Students are in no mood to withdraw till they achieve what they are protesting for, day in and day out.
- On the 25th of November, another notice is released that talks about slashing the fees (utility and service charges) for APL by 50% and BPL by 75% on the strong recommendation of the High Level Committee (HLC) set up by the administration. JNU Students’ Union and the others on University observing strike from Day 1, reject this revised fee structure wholly and completely. Not an inch back, as they say, students are hell bent on wanting their demands to be listened to. This move by administration is a ‘lollipop’ and a form of ‘bargain’, as students claim, and rightly so.
- The inside story that majority of the people who comment on the JNU protests don’t know anything about: The meeting in which the new fee structure was passed, clearly cut the JNU Students’ Union out and failed to recognise the presence of the student body. Therefore, by this very nature, the meeting stands null and void.
- JNU VC, has all the time in the world to spew venom against his own students on Twitter and news channels, but we haven’t heard from him now in a month. A VC who does not prefer dialogue with his own students is of no good. Hence, we are demanding his immediate stepping down from the post because he’s proven incompetent to run a university like JNU.
- A fee hike has been observed in many colleges around the country, why only JNU is protesting, you ask? Think of the better question: Why is Education being sold as a commodity? Isn’t free education a right for all? Why are the students around the country okay with their fees being this high? Why are the students quiet, why are you quiet?
I’ve friends here who were laathi charged, and chased by the Delhi police in kilometres, on the day they were marching to the Parliament. They haven’t succumbed to the higher authoritarian wrath and still go out, participating passionately in all the protests. The enthusiasm to save their University from the evils of privatisation of education hasn’t been knocked down by ‘efforts’ of the Delhi Police and their cruel and disgusting tactics.
As JNU students say, you can lock them up and shut them down. But you can never shut out their ideas. The emotions of anger, agitation and pain that JNUites share with each other, I say no force is strong enough to bog them down.
I request you all to stop being so unfair to us and see beyond what is shown. Hear our story out. Save JNU, before it gets destroyed at the hands of the higher authoritarian body. I pity people who can’t see what gem of a university JNU truly is, where our ideas echoes out loud and that is what sets JNU apart from other universities.
Stand with JNU, because once it starts getting tarnished and eventually, destroyed, the nation will weep the death of an incredible university and it will be too late.
The author is a student, currently studying at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. A close observer of what is happening in, around and about the University, and the intense student politics at the Varsity, through this piece the authors tries to present various facts and issues of importance concern which need their due place in the public space.
Feature Image Credits: Priyanshu Sinha for DU Beat