A fresher at JNU explains what she expected from one of India’s premier institutions, and why students are unanimously resisting the big hike in fees and other arbitrary actions of the administration
En route to the library, I look at the signboard at the Admin Block which reads “Any demonstration within 100 metres of this area is prohibited.” I ask myself how did a place brimful of audacity, that we lovingly refer to as Freedom Square, transform into a site of despicable silence. The king-size pots nurturing the already abundant bougainvillea have replaced the voices of students, relegating them to a small dhaba.
For us freshers, the transformation of JNU into a largely de-politicised campus haunts us. We consume numerous cups of chai discussing how the administration has been successful in changing the campus into a rather panopticon one. But the protest on November 4 proved how wrong I was, and I happily stand corrected.
The protest was no one-day match. It emerged in the backdrop of the draconian hostel manual. The movement has been gaining strength in terms of participation since October 28, when the entire fiasco took place of ‘passing’ the draft without the JNUSU’s consent. This unilateral decision of promulgating of huge fee hike, subtle implications about dress codes, lockdown and shutdown of our social spaces and curfew timing for hostels are deeply resented among the JNU students community.
The representation of our protest in mainstream media was completely devoid of any sympathy and truth to the cause of public education. This was not startling at all given the nexus between corporates, media and state. This has been the norm for quite some time now.
Resistance against the hostel manual shows us certain key tenets of the history of resistance at JNU. We truly believe that JNU is a representation of India (we are nationalists as well) and hence the struggle seeks to take account of both the local issues that plague the university and larger problems of the nation that manifest as local issues.
The progression of protest is a rather inspiring tale. The entire JNU community unanimously supported the strike at the call of the student’s union. The classes are arranged outside the classroom in lawns and other open spaces. There are night campaigns which entail songs and poems of resistance, theatre and particularly relevant and inspiring slogans which would at first glance reveal how nationalist and constructive they are in nature.
The continuous chants of “Acchi shiksha ki, sasti shiksha ki azadi, pitrisatta se azadi…” which translates into freedom of quality and affordable education, freedom from patriarchy and so on, truly represents the respect for freedom amongst JNUites. The slogans also represent the cohesiveness of the movement, where the cause of women and other socially, economically marginalised people comes together to join hands into making JNU a diverse and democratic space. The entire campus, irrespective of political preferences, has come to accept a common ground on this issue. The diverse opinion about course of action and modes of protest and continuous dialectics has truly infused democracy in motion.
The admin’s allegation of the protest being the business of “few” students is falsified as people turned up en masse, all agreeing to the common genesis of their plight. Students here don’t only fight for its individual interests but share a solidarity with our mates, as we understand the value of diversity and the perspective it gives us in academia which is much needed. And so our solidarity in resistance is an answer to all efforts of divisive politics of communalism which has assumed the new role as nationalism.
We at JNU understand that there is no “nationalism” in forcing so many people out from pursuing their share of education and making the space conducive to only for economically privileged ones. The beauty of our protest lies in the fact that we logically bring out the cross-section of what is happening on campus and the roots of the problem (for which current regime is to be held responsible), which is essentially the alliance of neo-fascism and neo-liberalism. Each slogan explains the mismanagement in terms of economic governance as well as rupturing of the social fabric with as much force and passion. The critical, anti-establishment stance against the administration and government is perceived by some as being “anti-national”.
So next when we are framed as anti-nationals for demanding equitable distribution of social goods and civil rights of individual, do think about what we do in protests like these, is to voice the concerns of nation that is rarely given space in our contemporary politics. This confluence of various forms of ideologies and plan of action which has emanated from this protest in JNU is rather an exemplar of building a much needed social movement in India against the wrong that has already done irreversible damage to the nation.
A true patriot is one who wants its nation and their people to progress, which is what we mostly study, research, practice and ask for. When these are not given, we resist at JNU.