JNU Row : CRIMINALISING DISSENT

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Jawaharlal Nehru University protest by students
Jawaharlal Nehru University protest by students

“JNU students are scholars and I like them but taking to the streets is hooliganism,” said a man to the oncoming files of students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on 18 February at Mandi House. The students defended their right of free speech and to express dissent as the faculty members dispersed the crowd that was gathering around this man. This unidentified person started to retreat and was surprisingly surrounded by the police who were taking no action to disperse the crowd or to keep it under control.

One shortcoming shown by the police administration was however taken care of during the protest march on 18 February. A team of at least 50 members of the women police force and CRPF made a part of the police contingent during the protest march organised by JNU students. Police could be seen hovering around the crowd waiting for some disturbance to erupt. Some of them could be seen with lathis and helmets on them. The crowd was however, quite organised and the police did not have much to do.

This protest march was organised to show support for JNUSU president, Kanhaiya Kumar’s, release who has now been taken to Tihar Jail. Apart from that, various lawyers showed solidarity against those who were seen beating the president up in Patiala House court along with various journalists who were simply doing their job of covering the trial. One pattern emerges with all these events. Yogendra Yadav, activist and Swaraj Abhyaan leader states, “At first it appeared that the police was overacting in one case and not acting at all in the other. But in totality, there is a clear pattern. The idea is to send a message to anyone who dissents, who disagrees, and who has a difference of opinion.” The police seemed to have been dancing to the tunes of the right wing ‘nationalists’.

While the students were expressing dissent in Jawaharlal Nehru University campus the police had very conveniently barricaded all entry gates. They could be seen freely roaming around the campus with charges filed on unknown students. Raids were being conducted all around the university with professors’ houses too being under this radar. Y.S. Alone, professor of art history in school of arts and aesthetics, JNU states, “It (police action) not only affects students but every citizen of this country who got their guaranteed rights under the Constitution. If somebody is demanding their rights they are active citizens not criminals. They want the state to be the agency to take care of their problems.”

On the other hand, when Kanhaiya and four other journalists were attacked in court, the police stepped back and let the lawyers finish off with them. “No arrests were made when RSS activists, dressed in civil clothes, were beating up JNU students both male and female three weeks back in front of the RSS office,” says Alka, a student of master’s in political science, JNU and a member of Democratic Students Federation. She continues, “B.S. Bassi has proved that he is not the top cop of Delhi Police but a muscle man of BJP.”

Sources tell TEHELKA that when one journalist ran to the police for aid, he was asked to leave the court premises before matters get out of hands. No action was taken to stop the BJP MLA O.P. Sharma as he ran after a senior CPI leader and beat him up. It was only later when the apex court stepped in that Sharma was arrested and then granted bail. When Delhi Police commissioner was asked about what the police was doing about the attacks, he stated that attempts were being made to identify the attackers even as the names of these attackers were doing the rounds in media.

Additionally, media has been running its own rally and trial trying to describe what constitutes nationalism and what does not. Legally, charges against Kanhaiya Kumar cannot be equated to sedition. Yogendra Yadav explains, “Sedition comes into play when there is an incitement to armed rebellion which has not been done. These are ridiculous trumped up charges and those who have levied them know that they are ridiculous. They are doing it because it serves a purpose for a short period. Iit serves the purpose of stigmatising JNU and in the left. They are stigmatising any dissent.”

The message that has been going across to the country is that there is only one kind of nationalism which is the saffron kind and all those who have a difference of opinion may as well surrender under sedition. The message going across is Bharat Mata ki Jai (hail mother India) which is really not such a bad idea but the concept of Bharat mata (mother India) comes from a deeply rooted idea of the goddess Durga, a concept that does not give space to other religious groups and other identities.

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