THE brutal atrocities unleashed by Delhi police on JNU students who were peacefully marching towards Parliament Street on March 23, is a common knowledge now. This is despite the peaceful nature of the march. Despite the presence of more than 2000 students, JNU students taking cue from Kisan long march in Maharashtra, was careful to not disturb commuters and traffic. Throughout the march, students walked along the side of the road, allowing for the free flow of traffic. Purposefully, Delhi police diverted the route of march, and unleashed havoc, resulting in serious injuries for several students. What is more shocking, is the complete insensitivity showcased by Delhi police in dealing with women protesters, many of whose clothes were ripped and torn by police personnel. Even journalists were not spared and one female journalist has accused Delhi police of molestation. Overall, 24 student protesters were detained including SFI central executive committee members. Instead of apologising for these heinous acts, from the very next day, an online campaign was unleashed by Delhi police to identify the peaceful student protesters. The same police, who took four days to file FIR against BJP member Prof. Atul Johri on sexual harassment charges, that too after massive student protests, filed FIR against 22 students within 24 hours, clearly exposing their servility towards the ruling party. The Delhi police have registered an FIR under sections 147, 148, 186, 353, 332 and 509 of the IPC. This includes rioting, rioting with armed weapons, voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty etc. A cursory look on videos of the march will reveal that these are cooked up charges with absolutely no basis. It should be also noted that blatant assistance was given by ABVP cadres in identifying student protesters. Without any shame, in twitter, details of protesting students, including their name and address was shared by ABVP leaders. Although, they have a history of acting as stooges of government, such open display of betrayal was a new low, even for them.
Why was the march held?
True to their fraudulent nature, corporate media houses let loose a sea of falsehoods against JNU, to create an air of confusion and to divert attention from police brutality. Times now trend for the day was #Azaditobunk. While the unilateral decision to impose attendance by JNU administration on a university which primarily consists of research scholars and therefore irrational, was an important agenda of the march, it was not the only one. Since the appointment of this vice chancellor, there have been attacks on the university by the government which is unprecedented in the history of the institution. The march was held as a protest against these attacks on multiple fronts.
The attack unleashed by JNU VC in cahoots with UGC on principles of social justice is unmatched. JNU today does not follow the constitutionally prescribed reservation policy. Only 20 per cent of students in last year’s admissions belonged to reserved categories. This is nothing short of a day-light butchery of Mandal commission recommendations. This has occurred because of the implementation of UGC gazette notification 2016, which is one of the casteist documents produced by UGC since independence. The notification provides for 100 per cent viva in M.Phil interviews and a 50 per cent blanket qualifying criterion for written examination, which has prevented students from marginalised sections in clearing JNU entrance examination last year. Its implementation has also resulted in massive seat cuts. From usual intake of 1000 students for M.Phil per year, the intake in JNU was less than 150 last year. If unchecked, the policies in document can singlehandedly stop the entry of students belonging to marginalised sections in higher education institutes. Revoking this draconian policy was an important demand of the march.
Shielding of Prof. Atul Johri by JNU administration and Delhi police - Prof. Atul Johri, a faculty in School of Life Sciences has been accused of sexual harassment by nine students from the same school, who have a filed police complaint against him. Johri is closely associated with the RSS and has occupied various positions of power in JNU. He has been acting as the right-hand man of the administration, going to the extent of physically assaulting JNUSU members in an academic council meeting last year. Naturally, due to his proclivity towards BJP, there was resistance towards filing an FIR against him by Delhi police. It took four days of protests by students outside Vasant Vihar police station, for FIRs to be filed against him. But his arrest which happened two days later was made a mockery of justice by Delhi police. Delhi police did not demand for his custodial questioning, resulting in him being granted bail in all eight FIRs, within 40 minutes. Similar attitude has been displayed by the university administration. Despite Visakha guidelines clearly stating the suspension of an individual accused of these crimes, absolutely no action has taken by the administration against Johri. In fact, until now, the JNU administration has not issued a press release stating their stand on the matter. Johri continues to hold positions of power, which is nothing short of attempts by administration to shield him and goes against all principles of natural justice. While the ABVP and the RSS have tried to give this episode a political colour, accusing the complainants of targeting him because of political vendetta, students themselves have stated that they are members of the ABVP. Usually in instances of sexual harassment, students of JNU used to approach GSCASH (Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment). But the GSCASH has been dismantled by this administration, replacing it with ICC (Internal Complaints committee) which is a nominated body unlike GSCASH which consists of elected members. The administration has filled this institution with their cronies. Naturally, a serious distrust exists among the student community towards this institution. Without the reinstatement of GSCASH, students will have no option but to directly approach police, in episodes like this.
AGAINST UNDEMOCRATIC SUSPENSION OF CHAIRPERSONS
JNU administration had unilaterally, without any discussions, passed the attendance norm in JNU in January, whereby all students including research scholars and day scholars have to sign in an attendance register placed in their respective centres for 75 per cent of total working days. There was resistance not only from the student community but also from faculty members against this thoroughly irrational norm. Many of them including seven chairpersons and one dean openly dissented against this policy. As a result, all of them were suspended from their posts by the administration without any discussion or debate. In the most ridiculous manner, suspension notices were issued to them via JNU web-site, post mid-night showing the desperation of the administration. If the same urgency was shown by administration regarding Johri, he would have been suspended by now.
AUTONOMY FOR HIGHER EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTES
The latest decision to provide autonomy for 62 higher education institutes is yet another attack by this government on institutes of higher education. It is alarming that instead of democratically discussing this decision in parliament and addressing various concerns of other stake holders, the government has unilaterally decided to impose autonomy through a UGC notification. This autonomy is an excuse to withdraw public-funding from universities and will lead to increased privatisation and commercialisation. The victims of these policies like all other polices of this government, will be students from marginalised sections, who would not be able to afford the increased fee structure, which self-financing and privatisation will bring about. It is the implementation of similar set of policies which has resulted in widespread student protests across Europe, Latin America, South Africa and USA.
Since the vice-chancellor of the university is the central figure in many of these dictatorial acts, his removal has also been a central demand of the student community in JNU. While the police could halt the Long March of students, the protests in JNU continue unabated. Until there is a reversal of these draconian policies, students and faculty members of JNU will continue to protest. We should also note that many of these issues are not merely JNU centric. UGC notifications on autonomy and viva voice are applicable across India, and can be the death knell of higher education in India as we know. A united students struggle across the county is the need of the hour to roll back these thoroughly casteist and exclusive policies of this government.