On an ordinary day, JNU is buzzing with activity all the time. One can see students and teachers busy in the classrooms, library and canteens interacting with each other all through the day. During the nights, there is lot of activity around a number of dhabas, especially Sabarmati, Godavari and Ganga, spread all over the campus. Students can be seen discussing all kind of national and international issues on a cup of tea. But all this has changed since the February 9 incident.
“There is a total sannata (silence) in the campus after 11.30pm these days,” says Nandini, a student from Centre of English Studies (CES). Her friends Simran, from the Centre for Political Studies and CES’ Prachi, sitting beside her near the famous Gopalan Canteen next to the library, nod firmly in her support. “There is panic among students as we are seeing things that we had never seen before. Late in the night at around 3am we heard some people shouting slogans outside the hostel like, ‘Desh ke gaddaron ko ek dhakka aur do’, ‘Afzal ki jo baat karega, woh Afzal ki maut marega’ and ‘Jis ghar se Afzal niklega, us mein ghus kar marenge,” they say. “The police action in JNU and the arrest of students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar in a sedition case is a direct attack on our autonomy. The government is trying to suppress the students’ movement in all the universities.” It is a crackdown on critical thinking, they add.
The prestigious university has been in the news since a group of students held an event in the campus to protest the execution of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru three years ago. The JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested last Friday in connection with a case of sedition and criminal conspiracy registered over the event at the varsity during which anti-India slogans were alleged to have been raised. Umar Khalid, a member of the Democratic Students Union (DSU) and one of the organisers of the event, has been absconding since the event along with some other DSU members and are wanted by Delhi Police. Students and teachers alike have condemned the police action on the campus and the way Kanhaiya was arrested. All of them agree that the campus has changed and there is a sense of uncertainty amongst them.
Lata, a PhD student at the Spanish Centre and a member of the Hundred Flowers Group, said she was present at the time of the protest near the Sabarmati dhaba on February 9.
“It was a manufactured incident and none of the JNU students were shouting anti-India slogans and Pakistan Zindabad,” she told Hindustan Times.
“A Country Without Post Office was a protest against the undemocratic trial of Afzal Guru. We do not back his political ideology but we support the right of self-determination of all including Kashmiris,” she said.
Lata said certain fringe elements like Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Pragya and Sakshi Maharaj are in the BJP too but is Prime Minister Narendra Modi responsible for all their actions and asked why have they then made Kanhaiya responsible for what happened.
A former JNU student, who did not want to be named, said that the slogan shouting on the night of February 9 did not seem to be the work of JNU students. He said JNUites have a style of protesting which is different from the way the protests took place that night.
“JNU student raise their arms and hands with their fists closed while that night one can see that the protesters were moving their fingers in a particular manner, style not seen in JNU protests.”
Anamika, a PhD student at the SSS and who is not associated with any political organisation, said, “We are proud of being students of JNU. It is here that we have learnt to demand what is our right and have become proud of our gender and identity. We are outraged at the way we have been labelled anti-national.” She added that a sense of uncertainty has crept among the students in JNU as people outside the campus are questioning them and the state has turned against them.
Christian, a German student at the School of Social Sciences, said students are scared as they think that there will be more confrontation. He further said some students have even left the campus.
United in protest
At the administrative block, a large number of students are seen sitting on the steps and raising slogan against the arrest of their union leader. They are surrounded by journalists who were taking interviews, clicking pictures and shooting videos.
Teachers of the university along with their union president Ajay Patnaik are also present. Patnaik demands the unconditional release of Kanhaiya terming him as the hero of the campus. Talking about the huge support their protest had received from teachers of universities all over the world he says that the protest would not end till Kanhaiya is released.
Maninder Nath Thakur, an associate professor at the Centre for Political Studies (CPS), told Hindustan Times that the campus is united in the protest and they are not ready to give up their democratic freedom of debate and discussion. He says even people in the campus, who are broadly sympathetic to BJP, seem to be with them on the issue of freedom of expression.
“Those who want to damage this democratic institution will fail,” Ramakrishna, a professor at the School of International Studies (SIS), says.
Another associate professor, Moushumi Basu, from the Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament (CIPOD) is anguished over the Patiala house incident. She also expressed concern for the safety of Umar Khalid asking why his posters are being put all over and concocted stories about the university and students are doing the rounds.
Ajith Kanna, an associate professor at the Centre for French and Francophone Studies, says that the undemocratic and erratic use of state apparatus is a right-wing onslaught on their freedom. “We are not anti-national but anti-establishment,” he says.