THE Jawaharlal Nehru University is known widely for its quality performance. JNU has been known to rank high in assessments carried by several accreditation bodies. In fact it received the highest ranking of A++ in the 2017 NAAC Accreditation. Adding further to its academic excellence is the unique character of JNU that boasts of quality education accessible to students belonging to the most deprived classes and social groups and a campus atmosphere where the most progressive ideas are upheld in everyday interactions. However in the recent years, this unique character is being manipulated through the many manoeuvres of the current administration in the university.
Ever since the current JNU vice chancellor, a spokesperson of the RSS, occupied office, he has left no stone unturned to destroy the very essence of the university, the progressive ideas that the students, faculty and workers have long stood for. The dismantling of GSCASH, delinking of MA-BA and MPhil-PhDs, corrupt political appointments and tampering with selection committees, massive seat cuts in admission – these are one of very few attacks that he has managed to implement. These are not in isolation and are located in the larger context when there are massive neoliberal assaults on peasants, workers, dalits, adivasis, minorities, women across the country. JNU, a public funded place for higher education in the national capital stands as a site of struggle and resistance that the current regime wants to decimate.
WHY THE CURRENT REGIME PERCEIVES JNU AS A THREAT?
The Sangh is employing all resources possible to bring about structural changes in the university. The attack on public funded institutions of higher education is prevalent across the country, however the peculiarity of the JNU lies in the fact that it stands as an epitome of everything the right wing in this country wants to destroy: equal access to quality education, critical pedagogy and more importantly, vibrant student politics where the Left’s role remains fundamental.
The progressive nature of the admission policy, namely the deprivation point system given to applicants from some of the most neglected parts of the country and to female candidates, had ensured that the student community remain diverse and vibrant. This of course is not to deny that there did exist issues of struggle on questions of social justice on this campus earlier. The demand for viva voce weightage reduction has been one of the primary issues that the students on campus have raised time and again. But the new regulations suggested by the UGC guidelines of 2016 which give hundred per cent weightage to viva would necessarily bring about exclusion of students belonging to deprived sections from entering the university.
Following this are the massive changes in the admission process that would systematically exclude students from marginalised sections. Ever since these changes are being brought about we observe a clear flouting of reservations. In 2017-18 admissions out of 74 only 17 students belonging to reserved categories (SC/ST/OBC) got admitted in the university, a clear violation of the constitutionally mandated reservation. Further, the on-going admission process (for 2018-19), is being carried out in an extremely non-transparent manner with serious anomalies. As per sources, the number of students being called for viva-voce against each reserved seat is lower than that stated in the prospectus.
The exclusionary policies are not limited to admissions. Another assault by the Jagadesh Kumar administration is seen in the undemocratic imposition of massive hike in hostel fees. Clearly, the most affected by this fee hike would be students belonging to deprived classes who depend on scholarships such as merit cum means for education. What is ironical is that the scholarship amount falls short of the calculated fee under the new few structure. Moreover the very process of scholarship disbursement by the finance department to students is a very slow process. Months, sometimes semesters, lapse between the date of application and the actual day when scholarships reach bank accounts of students.
All of the above assaults come in the wake of the massive resistance that the students have shown to the arbitrary and illegal imposition of mandatory attendance by JNU administration. On January 11, the administration brought out a circular making attendance compulsory for all registered students across batches BA, MA, and MPhil-PhD. The administration stated that compulsory attendance was passed by the academic council meeting held on December 1, 2017 which is a blatant lie. Neither was compulsory attendance an agenda for the aforementioned AC meeting nor was it passed in the same. The administration violated all democratic norms and ethos, surpassed quasi-judicial bodies to implement this arbitrary rule. When the students under the leadership of JNUSU decided to boycott signing of attendance sheets, the administration took to threatening through notices one after another. Even scholarships of students were unlawfully withheld. (None of the fellowships as per the UGC norms require the mandatory signing of attendance sheets. Further the non-net fellowships given by the university do not even have an attendance clause.)
WHY MANDATORY ATTENDANCE IS PROBLEMATIC IN A CAMPUS LIKE JNU?
When thousands of students marched in JNU against the imposition of compulsory attendance, the Sanghi administration in nexus with the bourgeois media carried out the nefarious campaign that JNU students are against attendance because they are against academics. Such a campaign needs to be countered for very concrete reasons. First, compulsory attendance that requires attendance sheets to be signed daily inherently curtails academic freedom. For research scholar whose academic activity is not limited to classrooms, compulsory attendance imposes undue methodological restrictions. Second, there have always existed informal channels to ensure participation of students in classes. It has already been brought out by experts the how the existing channels have been working to ensure high quality performance of students. 'JNU system actually penalises students for missing classes in terms of their actual performance. For postgraduate students (for which not even Delhi University has compulsory attendance), gruelling schedules of presentations, assignments, tests, and tutorials with tight deadlines make missing classes, again amounting to 50 per cent of the semester grade, make absenteeism extremely risky'.
The new attendance policy just gives the administration power to target students on campus. And this is very much in tune with the purposeful targeting of JNUSU representatives and student activists on campus through countless proctorial enquiries, massive fines and hostel transfers. It is one of the many repertoires that the administration is employing to silence dissent on campus and suppress student protest. And therefore there is a crucial need to fight this policy in totality.
THE ASSAULT ON CAMPUSES NATIONWIDE
The attack on JNU is massive but it is not in isolation. Across campuses we see how the government is bringing one assault after another. In TISS the administration has imposed the compulsory payment of fees by students who avail of the post matric scholarship (sponsored by the government of India), a scholarship meant for students hailing from deprived socio-economic backgrounds. The imposition of this rule is nothing less of a ploy to exclude students belonging to the most marginalised sections from accessing quality education.
All these overt attacks by the Modi government on higher education are aimed at nothing but serving the interests of the bourgeoisie and their agent the RSS, which wants the complete privatisation of education and more importantly making education the privilege of a certain class. Amidst all this massive suppression what stands as a beacon of hope is the massive resistance that students have been giving to the Sangh led administration. When students in TISS go on a continuous strike for over twenty days shutting all academic functioning, when thousands in JNU continuously boycott mandatory attendance for two months and march on the JNU streets against the administration’s diktats, the Sangh feels threatened. It hides behind circulars and fines. Therefore the struggle at hand is to intensify the struggles across campuses against the exclusionary policies being implemented.
Any authoritarian regime, like the current one in this country would employ all its forces to curb resistance. Only a democratic people’s struggle, in this case the united struggle of students across campuses along with all democratic forces outside, will force the government to bow down.