When Deepika Padukone enlivened a JNU protest
The Bollywood actress visited the campus on January 7 to show solidarity with students and teachers protesting against Sunday’s mob attack
ON TUESDAY evening (January 7), Jawaharlal Nehru University students, teachers and alumni protesting against the mob attack on their campus two days before had a surprise visitor: Deepika Padukone.
The actress was in Delhi to promote her new film Chhapaak and afterwards visited the JNU campus to show solidarity with the students, many of whom had been hurt in the mob violence, allegedly unleashed by members of the Sangh Parivar affiliate ABVP.
Apart from Padukone, several prominent figures, many of them alumni, addressed Tuesday’s public meeting, organised by the JNU Teachers’ Association to condemn the mob attack and demand the resignation of vice-chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar. They included Sitaram Yechury, Yogendra Yadav, Kanhaiya Kumar, D Raja, and Kavita Krishnan. Nearly a hundred people were gathered, including a representative of the teachers’ association of Jamia Millia Islamia, where the Delhi police had brutalised students in response to a protest against the citizenship law last month.
After Yechury finished his speech at around 6:30 pm, the protest started to lose intensity, but Kanhaiya Kumar worked the gathering up again. Aishe Ghosh, president of the JNU Students Union who was among those injured in Sunday’s violence, stood beside him as Kumar spoke, to loud cheers and sloganeering. It was while Kumar was speaking that Padukone arrived, creating quite a flutter and invigorating the crowd further. Kumar shouted slogans for around 10 minutes and the crowd responded with gusto.
Padukone did not address the gathering, nor did she make any comments to the press. She only briefly spoke with Ghosh after the sloganeering ended, and left.
Speaking afterwards, Ghosh urged Padukone’s fellow Bollywood stars to follow her example and support people’s struggles.
Padukone’s JNU visit also stirred a storm on social media and TV news studios. While several of her film industry peers, activists and journalists such as Swara Bhaskar, Anurag Kashyap, Anubhav Sinha, Rana Ayubb, and Umar Khalid praised Padukone for showing up at JNU, BJP spokesperson Tajinder Singh Bagga called for a boycott of her movies. In his show on Republic TV, Arnab Goswami thundered that people like Kashyap and Padukone didn’t know much about the Citizenship Amendment Act or the National Register of Citizens, implying that they had no business protesting.
Earlier in the evening, as Krishnan was addressing the gathering, a drone appeared overhead, and the crowd burst out laughing. “Why are you putting in so much effort, you could have just attended the meeting,” Krishnan remarked sarcastically, referring to whoever was flying the drone, presumably the police or security agencies.
The government claims they do not have enough money for education and need to hike fees, Krishnan continued, yet they find the resources and money for NPR and NRC.
Yogendra Yadav said the Narendra Modi regime was scared of JNU because it is one of the few institutions in India now that prizes critical thinking. “The present government is scared because JNU can think and they don’t welcome thoughts,” he said.