JNU row a year later: Kanhaiya to Khalid, how lives of 5 students changed
Five JNU students grabbed headlines after the event, in which “anti-national” slogans were allegedly raised, to commemorate Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. HT looks at how the event shaped their lives and how they look at the future.
A year ago, Jawaharlal Nehru University erupted in protests over the 2013 execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri separatist convicted of conspiring in an attack on Parliament 16 years ago, but whose trial many human rights groups felt was flawed. Five JNU students grabbed the headlines at those campus protests in which alleged anti-national slogans were shouted.
HT looks at how the event shaped their lives and how they look at the future.
Kumar was not directly involved in organising the event but allegedly raised anti-national slogans. Sedition charges were slapped on him and he was arrested.
Kumar says he continues to do what he did earlier — student activism and studies. But he is aware of the scrutiny on what he says and does. “There is a lot of scrutiny and I am interpreted in wrong ways many times,” Kumar, who recently wrote a book, said.
“I am either writing my dissertation or addressing people in different cities,” he said. He said it is not just JNU that has changed but the entire country. “The present government continued with economic policies of its predecessor such as fund cut in higher education. But they are trying to impose an ideology,” he said.
“They will call us anti-national because their idea of a nation is different from the Constitution. Their idea is inspired from Manusmriti. We are against their ideology and they are ruling the country so they will obviously call us anti-national.”
After the arrest of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar and other union members going in hiding, Rashid emerged as the face of the student’s protest. She organised marches, addressed students and gathered support for the movement.
Her future plans changed after the February 9 event. Rashid wanted to go to Harvard University for PhD but has now chosen to stay in India. “I have changed my plans and want to focus on activism in India. All progressive forces need to come together and fight this onslaught by the right-wing,” she said.
For Rashid, February 9 was not an isolated event and she along with others saw it coming, albeit not at such a large scale. “Before February 9, there were incidents when ABVP created a hurdle in screening of documentaries, talks and speeches. We knew we will be attacked once the new government came in power but we didn’t expect it to be at this level,” she said. She said the incident has given an opportunity for people to start a new discourse on issues.
Khalid was one of the main the organisers of the event against whom sedition charges were filed.
He spent 24 days in the prison.
Khalid said not much has changed for him since the event. “I have been doing politics on this campus for the last seven years. My ideology, convictions are the same but I have evolved as a person. Through the February 9 episode, the government itself gave us a platform to propagate our ideas to the people. By the attack, the government thought they will finish us, but they ended up taking our message far and wide.”
Khalid added: “The attack on JNU started not on February 9 but on January 27, when the new vice-chancellor came. With our movement we defeated the first round of attack of #ShutdownJNU but the attack is still relentless. Just that now it is not a televised spectacle. But attempts in different ways are being made to make the institution internally hollow. As long as V-C Jagadesh Kumar is there, the attack on JNU will continue.”
The then general secretary of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) and member of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), he was the main complainant against the event.
Kumar said the February 9 episode strengthened his conviction to work for the national cause. “As a student and member of ABVP, in the February 9 incident, I performed my constitutional duty. The incident has helped develop my personality greatly and made me stronger to think about the country and to work towards working for the society.”
“The incident has helped regain and revive the culture of JNU of debate and dissent with peaceful existence of students from different ideologies. But sadly, since the controversy, no constructive politics is taking place in our university... It has now become important to tell the world that JNU is not only about protests. So this a request that media should stop giving space to such deconstructive politics.”
Bhattacharya was one of the main event organisers. A case of sedition was filed against him and he spent 24 days in jail before getting bail.
Bhattacharya, who wanted to be a journalist reporting on land issues, said his options have been limited due to the incident.
He still sees a silver lining. “Whatever the state wanted to do… to make us into villains, I think that has worked for us. I think they have done a service to us. Because of what they did, people want to know what we think on issues... Curiosity is better than status quo,” he said.
He said things are not as bad for him as they are for his friend Umar Khalid. “I still have that anonymity to go out and work without many people recognising me. But for Umar, stepping out of JNU is a struggle... There is a difference between being a Bhattacharya and a Khalid,” he said.