THEY SAY every major structural shift of the State’s policy options is preceded by a commensurate enactment of law. Perhaps what is unfolding in higher education in India, especially in campuses like JNU, are ominous portents of further authoritarianism in university education in India. The HRD minister set to open the huge education market for foreign capital as and when the Foreign Universities Bill is passed — yes, another SEZ is in the making.
So it was natural when the JNU administration came out with a curious circular on March 23 from the office of the Provost, duly attested by the Dean of Students, stating unequivocally that henceforth all seminars, public meetings, film or documentary screenings, and exhibitions will only be allowed if they does not compromise national integration, harmony and security. It was accompanied by a new application which stipulated, for the first time, that permission must be taken for such events a week in advance. It contained queries about the participants — if there would be debate and discussion after the meeting, the topic and so on. This circular has reportedly been withdrawn following protests from students and teachers. This all is happening as the JNU administration tries to avoid the increasing demand of ensuring reservations in faculty positions.
On April 9, who all had come together to disrupt a cultural programme organised by the JNU Forum Against War on People, the broad platform of students and organisations opposed to ‘Operation Green Hunt’ (OGH)? The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and Youth For Equality (YFE), the ABVP and NSUI’S anti-reservationist B-team. And what were their slogans? That OGH should start from JNU and the usual branding of anyone and everyone as ‘anti-nationals’. The unruly crowd went on howling and heckling the students, with security standing mute witness. Then, they started destroying equipment: they took away the audio-mixer, broke one of the loudspeakers and started pelting stones at the venue. Some students had to be taken to hospital. The screening of Costa Gavras’ masterpiece Missing could not be done, but the rest of the programme — protest songs and the nukkad natak — were put up. The administration later came up with the excuse that prior permission was not taken, but that’s no pretext to allow anybody to disrupt a student programme.
The university’s circular against student rallies was a green light to stifle whatever liberal voices of dissent remain
Apart from programmes organised by campus student groups, there is hardly any reflection, academic or otherwise, among faculty on such unprecedented and violent change to the lives and livelihoods of millions of Adivasis of this country. There is hardly any reflection on farmer suicides or the poorest of the poor dying of starvation or malnutrition. So much for the sensitivity of the ‘educated middle class’.
The background for this show of lumpenism by the ABVP-YFE-NSUI was very much provided by the university’s circular. The memo was a green light to stifle whatever liberal voices of dissent were left in campuses like JNU. The ABVP-YFE-NSUI combine was correct: SEZ policy in higher education should come up with its own OGH, and the ABVP-YFE-NSUI has turned out to be the Salwa Judum SPOs — mind you, this has been the historical role of all these groups: to be fundamentally opposed to any form of democratic assertion, let alone liberal opinions. Who said that the OGH was limited to the jungles of central and eastern India? Of course, our Home Minister has denied its very existence to begin with!
Wilson is Secretary, Public Relations of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners, and a former JNU student