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46 years after actor Balraj Sahni’s ‘radical’ speech, JNU to host its 2nd convocation

The first and only convocation at JNU was held in 1972, when noted actor and theatre personality Balraj Sahni had given the convocation address

delhi Updated: Jan 29, 2018 07:14 IST
A Mariyam Alavi
A Mariyam Alavi
Hindustan Times
JNU,JNU convocation,Jawaharlal Nehru University
Actor Balraj Sahni and G Parthasarathi, Vice Chancellor, JNU, head to address Jawaharlal Nehru University’s convocation in New Delhi in 1972.(HT Archives)

The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) will host a convocation this year after a gap of 46 years in what the administration describes as an attempt to revive and “celebrate” all that is positive about one of India’s premier educational institutions.

The university’s JNU Rector-II, SC Garkoti, who is also serving as the chairperson of the steering committee responsible for the smooth conduct of the event, said this year’s convocation would be only to confer PhD degrees on students, but it would be expanded to other courses from next year.

The first and only convocation at JNU was held in 1972, when noted actor and theatre personality Balraj Sahni had given the convocation address, which Kamal Mitra Chenoy, a professor at the Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory, describes at a “radical speech” .

Sahni, according to a transcript of the speech, called for “a messiah to give us the courage to abandon our slavishness and to create values befitting the human beings of a free and independent country so that we may have the courage to link our destinies to the ones being ruled, and not the rulers — to the exploited and not to the exploiters.”

The idea of an annual convocation, however, was abandoned indefinitely in controversial circumstances because of what was said on the dais that day. At least two professors said the president of the students’ body, VC Koshy of the Students’ Federation of India, who had also spoken, delivered an address on the “bourgeoisie-landlord” government of the day. This was said to be a different speech than what had been approved by the then Vice-Chancellor G Parthasarathi. Hindustan Times could not independently verify this assertion.

“The media picked it up, because it was a big deal for a student to say such things, that too at their convocation,” Chenoy said.

A date for this year’s convocation has not been finalised, but according to a circular from the Registrar’s office, it is likely to be held in the last week of February or the first week of March.

“We wanted to encourage something positive. Why should our students just submit their PhD theses and disappear?” Garkoti said.

The president of the JNU student’s union Geeta Kumari said they did not have a problem with holding a convocation “but it depends on who they call as the guests”.

The bigger question is, as one student put it: “Will history repeat itself on the campus this year?”

First Published: Jan 29, 2018 07:06 IST