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Why an Army tank in JNU and not a farmer’s plough?

College campuses must breed productive citizens – not by placing battle tanks on their premises but by teaching students to question authority

columns Updated: Jul 29, 2017 19:47 IST
Army tank,JNU,Jawaharlal Nehru University
The VC’s suggestion comes straight from the rightwing playbook of JNU as the site of anti-national behaviour (not to mention excessive condom use). After all, it’s only anti-nationals who need a dose of patriotism.(Saumya Khandelwal/HT File Photo)

I’m trying figure out which one of the two is more outrageous: that a university should be considered an appropriate location for an Army tank, or that the suggestion should have come from its own vice chancellor.

If Jawaharlal Nehru University’s vice chancellor, M Jagadesh Kumar gets his wish, we might soon have a weapon of war on its grounds. This presumably will remind ‘thousands of students about the great sacrifices and valour of our Indian army’ as they goose-step their way to class.

Why an army tank and not a plough? Farmers who feed us don’t make a lesser sacrifice. And what symbol represents those who die keeping our sewage lines clean?

The VC’s suggestion comes straight from the rightwing playbook of JNU as the site of anti-national behaviour (not to mention excessive condom use). After all, it’s only anti-nationals who need a dose of patriotism.

Nobody will dispute the idea that college campuses should breed productive citizens. The question is: how best do you do it? Certainly not by being lectured to by a minister who laments that since we are a democracy, people ‘dare’ to question the army. I’m sure minister Dharmendra Pradhan is not implying that we junk democracy and become a military dictatorship but his lament does sound dangerously close.

Any mother will tell you that enforced disciplining is doomed to backfire. Compulsory singing of the national anthem or Vande Mataram, as the Madras High Court recently ruled, will raise a generation of parrots not patriots.

How do campuses raise good citizens? First, teach students to question. Go against the grain of rote learning and blind respect for authority. Question everything – professors, received learning, assumptions and the fake news received daily on phones. You cannot have national progress without inquiring minds.

Next, teach them to hold power to accountability. Citizens who question elected representatives keep democracy alive. No institution is above critique, not even the judiciary and especially not the media.

Armies are and must be questioned. How does a military court justify suspending the life sentences of five army personnel that was handed down by a court martial for the crime of staging the killing of innocent citizens? It is incumbent on us as vigilant citizens to ask these questions.

A country without engaged and informed citizens is just territory. Colleges must be incubators for such citizens.

My love for my country might lead me to question its caste system or its treatment of minorities and women. This does not deplete my love for India but in fact makes me a citizen who is vested in my country’s future and in preserving its identity as a multi-cultural democracy.

Meanwhile, my suggestion to JNU’s patriotic VC: Ditch the tank. Read the Constitution instead.

Namita Bhandare writes on social issues and gender. The views expressed are personal.

First Published: Jul 29, 2017 19:47 IST