Over nine months after Kanhaiya Kumar, former president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, delivered a late-night speech after his arrest and bail in a sedition case, he was again a sought after figure on the campus on Monday.
This time, it was a class XI student of humanities looking for him. Thousands had repeated after Kanhaiya the slogans of azadi at the university’s Freedom Square on March 3. A class VIII student from a government school, who remembered watching the live telecast, too, wanted to see what he looked like in person.
“Is Kanhaiya on the campus?” many asked as university volunteers guided batches of school students around JNU in the first-ever open day organised on Monday. Moving away from the controversies that have come to describe the 47-year-old university, the ‘Jan Jan JNU’ event attempted to highlight the academic output of the institution. The open day aimed to project a scholastic image of the university.
Over 600 students from 11 Delhi schools visited the campus spread over 1019 acres with 14 schools of study scattered across its thick greens.
“For a place like JNU, such events are important. When you look at the papers you only hear a certain kind of news about JNU. But when you come here, it is a completely different world. It is a university like any other university,” said V Ramgopal Rao, director, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), who was the guest of honour at the event.
For vice-chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar, whose previous employer, IIT Delhi, conducts such an event every year, it was a winning shot. Schoolchildren explored various research projects. But the issues of politics, freedom and democracy, student leader Kanhaiya and the controversial event of February 9 had many students hooked.
“Science students were quite excited by the models and the live experiments. But those from the humanities stream wanted to talk about politics. How do I know where Kanhaiya is? I am from the sciences myself,” a JNU student said even as she led a group of class XI students from Vasant Kunj who were keen to spend time at the Freedom Square – a three-sided staircase leading to the vice-chancellor’s office.
They also wanted to know where Najeeb Ahmad, missing from the campus since October 15, could be.
“Whatever I read in the newspaper and watched on TV about JNU made me skeptical about this place. I was scared of coming here, but the campus is a different world. It’s so cool. It’s so different. People here are liberal and have a point of view,” said Dahsel Bhutia, a class XI student.
Anjali, a class VIII of a government school in Tughlaqabad, was delighted to know of JNU’s research work. Scored 3.9 on four by National Assessment and Accreditation Council, the university has seen a steady increase in the research projects completed every year – from 276 in 2011-12 to 450 in 2014-15.
“I thought people here would be violent. I saw on TV that someone was missing and there were too many protests. But when I came here I saw the campus has a very friendly environment. There are so many courses on offer here,” said Anjali, dressed in her school uniform of salwar kameez and her hair divided into plaits.
JNU Students’ Union, which was not invited to display any posters like the academic departments and cells, found their own corner to reach out to schoolchildren. As students explored the campus, union members went around handing them pamphlets on how none of the elected bodies on the campus were asked to be part of the event.
“Ye JNU dekhne nahi aaye. Padai ki baatein karne aaye hain (They have not come to see JNU, but to talk about studies),” said a disgruntled volunteer.