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Life at JNU: How one event changed the dynamics of campus operations

JNU Campus known for its freedom, 24X7 dhabas, hostel life, politics, protests and posters etc is all changed after the February 9, 2016 event that involved Kanhaiya Kumar and others. Security checks for outsiders, surprise checking at hostels, surveillances, and restrictions are some of the changes one can notice. Read how everything changed at the JNU campus.

education Updated: Feb 10, 2019 15:49 IST
Fareeha Iftikhar
Fareeha Iftikhar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Kanhaiya Kumar addresses students after his release
Kanhaiya Kumar addresses students after his release(HT File)
         

Even for people who have not studied there, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has always symbolised politics, protests, posters, and round-the-clock dhabas. Among their academic peers, “JNU wallas” were known for their love for debates. It was an almost open campus, where outsiders were never stopped at the gate to show their identity cards.

This changed on February 9, 2016, when, during an event organised on the campus, “anti-national” slogans were allegedly raised and three students — Kanhaiya Kumar, Omar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya — were booked by the Delhi Police.

Now, the battle between the students, professors and the administration has reached the courts, the 24X7 eateries are shut at 11pm, visitors are greeted by security guards, protests are recorded on video, and the politics itself has changed from the intricate Left vs Left to a stark combined Left vs Right. Besides campus regulars — Marx, Lenin, Mandela, and Che — the walls depict spiritual gurus.

This, say current and former students, is a major cultural shift for the university.

When 37-year-old Vijay, who works as researcher with a private firm in Kochi, returned to his alma mater after four years, he found the campus in a “different shape”.

“The university’s administrative block was barricaded by iron grilles. Most of the dhabhas, which used to be open till 4.30am, shut well before midnight. Some students told me that the door to the library through which private books were allowed inside has been shut,” he said.

In November 2018, the JNU administration said that the university’s executive council (EC) wanted to check the feasibility of establishing food courts on the campus because the dhabas were violating rules and regulations.

“The popular ‘24x7’ eatery now wears a deserted look now. JNU has always been known for its dhabas, where students used to sit and engage in debates through the night. If they are removed, JNU will never be the same again,” said Sharad, 26, an MPhil student, sitting in the afternoon at Ganga Dhaba, one of the famous campus spots located near its main gate.

Mehak, who came to JNU from Chhattisgarh in 2014, said, “It was like a dream. Coming from a small town, I was in awe of the freedom enjoyed by the students on campus. There were no restrictions in the hostels and on the campus. Now we have to give details and purpose of the visit every time we go to the boys’ hostel. Surprise checks are often conducted in our hostels,” she said.

Last September, the residents of Ganga hostel raised the issue when they alleged that authorities conduct door-to-door checking in their hostel rooms. Provost Rajnish Mishra denies the charge. “These are all routine. If students have issues, they can meet their wardens and discuss it,” he said.

Some students say they have now started feeling uncomfortable at gatherings and protests. “There is always one or more security personnel recording the events on video. It feels as if we are under surveillance all the time,” said Rohit, who is pursuing a Master’s degree in international relations.

The JNU students’ union last year alleged an 80% cut in the library budget led to several e-journals not being subscribed by the university in the 2018-19 academic session. However, the university’s financial officer, Heeraman Tiwari, says this is not true. “There is no fund cut. The university has requested the UGC [University Grants Commission] to release additional funds to meet the increasing requirements for the library,” he said.

The administration has also received criticism for replacing the anti-harassment panel, GSCASH (Gender Sensitisaiton Committee Against Sexual Harassment) with an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). Students and some teachers allege that the ICC members were handpicked by the administration, raising questions over its transparency.

Remembering his days as a JNUSU president in 1992-93, Shakeel Ahmed Khan, Congress MLA from Bihar, said, “It was the time when Babri Masjid was demolished, and we were protesting against it - both inside and outside the campus. We protested against the visit of the then finance minister [Manmohan Singh] and did not allow him to enter the campus. We blocked the roads. Once we observed a hunger strike, demanding facilities on the campus. But, we were never issued any notice or faced any action. Everything was resolved by discussion because we used to have cordial relation with the vice chancellor and the other officials.”

Current JNUSU president N Sai Balaji said three disciplinary inquires are pending against him.

Last August, around 48 faculty members, including the office bearers of the JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA), were issued show- cause notices for participating in a protest against the decision-making process at the university. In December, 27 teachers were issued notices.

Two years ago, the JNU administration banned any protest and gathering within 100 metres of the administrative block, known as “freedom square”. Last February, the Delhi high court extended the ban.

“The idea is just to kill the space for dissent,” said Surajit Mazumdar, professor at the School of Social Sciences. Mazumdar was JNUSU president in 1988-89. He joined JNU as faculty member in 2014.

“I have personally faced more disciplinary action as a professor in the university, specifically in the last three years, than as the JNUSU leader,” he said.

But JNU registrar Pramod Kumar said disciplinary action was always taken against those who violated rules.

“We don’t indiscriminately issue notices. We are always for dialogue and discussion. Even the vice chancellor (VC) meets students on the first Monday of every month without any appointment. But there are some elements who are not ready to talk,” he said.

In 2017, JNU made 75 % attendance compulsory for all students. The move was followed by a spate of protests by students and teachers. They boycotted the attendance sheets and some students even moved Delhi high court against the decision. The matter is sub-juice.

Last March, the administration removed seven deans/chairpersons for not complying with mandatory attendance rule at their respective schools and centres.

In July last year, it extended the mandatory attendance to the teaching and non-teaching staff as well.

The decision was met with uproar. “I received an email from the academic branch that the leave request may be considered only after the faculty member will confirm that he or she is signing the attendance and taking attendance of students,” said Archana Prasad, professor at the centre for informal sector and labour studies.

Prasad moved the Delhi high court in January, seeking stay on the circular issued by the JNU administration making attendance compulsory for teachers. The court last month stayed the circular.

But not all the faculty members were averse to the decision. Amita Singh, professor at centre for study of law and governance, said: “There is nothing wrong in marking attendance. It’s just a way to ensure discipline at the campus. There are teachers who don’t take classes.”

In October 2017, a “public inquiry” instituted by teachers found the vice-chancellor guilty of “violating statutory provisions and academic norms”. “I have never heard any such inquiry against a vice-chancellor in any other institution. Except for a day in five years of my tenure as the VC, there was never any strike by JNUTA. As and when there were any issues or demands, I used to have a meeting with them and resolve the matter. Any teacher could meet me and no one was ever denied an appointment,” said Sudhir Kumar Sopory, former JNU vice chancellor.

Despite several attempts, VC Jagadesh Kumar and Rector 1 Chintamani Mahapatra did not respond to calls and messages for comments.

But administration officials said the university has been progressing despite these issues.

“In 2017, we received the visitors’ award for academic excellence from former President Pranab Mukherjee. Last year, we were granted autonomy by the Union education ministry to open new courses and campuses. We have established a new school and a centre. We are soon going to open a satellite campus outside Delhi. There are people who just like to criticise,” said a senior official, who asked not to be named.

Hindustantimes

First Published: Feb 09, 2019 12:53 IST