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Besieged by protests: Is Delhi University the new Jantar Mantar?

From students of Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to teachers, from non-teaching employees to National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) office bearers, people with varied demands held the campus — which resembled a protest site — to ransom on Tuesday.

delhi Updated: Feb 28, 2017 23:23 IST
Gulam Jeelani
University of Delhi

Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad members carry out Tiranga Rally on Tuesday.(AFP)

It’s like any other day at Jantar Mantar in the heart of Delhi on Tuesday afternoon. Twelve groups, some known — others unknown, are demonstrating with their charter of demands.

A few hundred bank employees are protesting bad loans and outsourcing. None of the demonstrations, however, draw media attention. And there is a reason.

24x7 news channels have focused their cameras on protests at the University of Delhi.

From students of DU and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to teachers, from non-teaching employees to National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) office bearers, people with varied demands held the campus — which resembled a protest site — to ransom on Tuesday.

Thousands of students assembled at Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur (SGTB) Khalsa College for a march against the alleged violence by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad students at Ramjas College on February 22, amid chants of “hum honge kaamyaab”.

Some are, however, upset with the university campus — once a platform for free thinking — turning into a hub of protests.

“Not that there were no protests earlier. But what we are witnessing these days is unprecedented in the sense that it has hijacked every other constructive activity the campuses should prioritise,” said Dr BS Rattan, who retired as a professor from DU before settling in Chandigarh.

Dr Ratan could recall a “few protests here and there” on the campus over issues such as “not giving admit cards to students for want of required attendance” or over matters related to “distribution of admission forms”.

But that was in 2000. “Now, it seems, politics has taken over,” said the 70-year-old former professor of English. Cut to 2017. As angry students from other universities such as JNU swarmed the campus, the road towards Arts Faculty was fortified with heavy police presence.

An actor and a teacher at SGTB, Kuljeet Singh, agree. Singh, whose association with DU spans over two decades, says the last major commotion was in the 1990s when Hansraj College students were injured during a lathi-charge ordered by then joint police commissioner Kiran Bedi.

“The campus used to encourage dissent till lately. But now we see stone pelting. It’s hard to imagine where we are headed,” Singh, now an assistant professor, said.

As the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) held a sit-in outside the Faculty of Arts against the recent violence, Delhi School of Economics students distributed black badges to express solidarity with the protests against ABVP.

Elsewhere on north campus, Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) members gathered to protest outside the Executive Council meeting, where a proposal to grant autonomous status to St Stephen’s was to be passed.

The university employees’ union also protested outside the Executive Council meet venue to raise their long-pending demand for pension.

The current leg of protests by students began on February 21 after a literary event at Ramjas College was called off as the ABVP objected to an invite to JNU students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid to speak at the seminar.

Deepak Pental, professor of genetics and DU vice-chancellor between 2005 and 2010, sees a partial role of police in handling the violence on campus. He has a solution to offer as well.

“I think there is more to it than meets the eye. I don’t understand why we give so much of importance to the so-called anti-nationals. We have better things to tackle in the country,” Pental said.