With nine schools and four independent centres, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) houses the country’s finest centres of history, political science, economics, regional development and sociology. Notwithstanding its inability to fetch a high global ranking, the university has emerged as the only truly national university in a country where institutions have been reduced to caste and community congregations.
The crux of JNU is not what it teaches merely as part of the syllabi and also not what it instructs in the classrooms but in the critical faculties it develops among its students, which extends beyond the classroom into the hostels, libraries and canteens. This critical faculty almost unique to JNU students and teachers make them rich in intellectual capital. This is why the jholawallah may be hapless in wealth but veritable plutocracy intellectually. In the increasingly closing minds of the Indians, it is this unique capital what is being envied and attacked and more so in the name of equlising drives either of the communal variety or in the shape of caste-based liberation theories.
For the RSS, for example, JNU had been an aberration as its historians, social scientists and its students have not been reduced to zombies of the Hindu ideological brigades. Since 2016, this has been attempted with the time tested methods of intimidation, disruptions, and dividing the community of scholars and students.
Since the fateful evening of February 9, one saw the entry of the police, charges of sedition on students, defaming and deligtimisation of JNU in public eye, which itself is a part of delegitimisation of the knowledge produced by JNU and continued disruptions created by filing charges, suspension of teachers and students, and malicious media profiling.
The student, and to an extent teachers have been weathering the attack with their internal strength of both academic excellence and conviction that they were right.
However with the education ministry being controlled, the rules of the game were constantly being changed to keep them on tenterhook.
While attempts are being made to delegitmise the teacher’s solidarity by trying to split the teachers union vertically during the time of crisis, student’s wing like ABVP tried to delegitmise the student union when the union president was incarcerated.
The administration around the same time began to be filled with non-tested academic figures, thereby delegitimising their value and made them a part of an administrative bureaucracy more than members of a university collegium.
Thus, statutory bodies like the academic council and executive council, and democratically elected bodies such as JNUSU and JNUTA were battered to endorse the ideas of an ideologically charged administrative dominance.
Thus, a peculiar situation prevailed when a student who was beaten up by groups of boys vanished into thin air from the university, and the same police which arrested a slogan shouting president with alacrity has found no trace of him in the last four months, and those who had allegedly beaten him were shielded.
On the other hand, extreme casteist and communal forces have also been helping each other to delegitimise the institutions and collegiality that has built up JNU.
While communal attack comes from outside parading mediocrity and homogeneity as the only viable intellectual and political agenda, the casteist and secterarian attacks come from inside with strong external links and presents itself as the only liberatory discourse.
So what we have today is a university whose uniqueness is to be attacked and destroyed so that it falls in line where a gleichschaltung is achieved, a non dissenting institution with dead pan faces, with caste identities or communal hatred pervasive, unquestioning students roaming around writing meaningless objective type exams for different testing services.
A university is after all the reflection of a nation and also its intellectual face to the world. The state of JNU today should concern all those who think for the nation and they must step forward to stop the march of mediocrity in the name of Hindu communalism or casteism.
Rakesh Batabyal teaches at JNU
He is the author of JNU: The Making of a University (Harper Collins, 2014)