The Unrest in India's Premier Universities
Ever since the 2016 incident of infamous sloganeering, and the intentional circulation of doctored videos, involving the depiction of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student body in an anti-state light, by the mainstream media channels, we, the students of JNU, have been assigned the position of maliciously radical elements who entertain a predictable reactionary response to any institutionalised imposition, good or bad; this to say the least is an unfair assumption. Any piece of contemporary media footage visual or written, whether pro-JNU or anti-JNU, spurts a consciousness that is injected in the head of the, now, statizens, that students in JNU like to protest. To that assumption, I’d want to reply by saying that most of us students come from painfully salaried class and working-class backgrounds, and any act of resorting to challenging the establishment although adventurous to our academic minds are brutally sidelined by the same academic expectations.
As I’m writing this, we have no idea whether we’ll be able to take the end semester examinations. Examinations, as decided by the administration, will still take place as scheduled, but we as a student collective have to jump into an intentional boycott if the infamous fee-hike, that is seen as a justified move against JNU ‘Freeloaders’ by most people in this country, isn’t entirely rolled back.
We’re left with no option because succumbing to these academic expectations would also imply coming to terms with the strategic extermination of 40% of the student body which we can’t allow that in any condition or circumstance. But this struggle has now gone beyond those mentioned 40 per cent. There are other academic sacrifices at play here. I am in my second year of M.A. and we’re supposed to fulfil a certain number of credits by the end of our four semesters, and missing exams this semester means that I will have to invest one extra semester here in JNU to cover for my expected credits, and as a normal academic year operates, it is equivalent to investing an entire year for I’ll only be able to apply for other institutions in the following year. For Mphil. students, things appear grave and brutal, as their course requirements don’t allow them to fail even a single subject, so an intentional boycott in their case would mean getting expelled from the institution.
When it comes to the PhD. students, not submitting the synopsis this semester would prevent them from enrolling into a new semester. I hope that the readers can see by now that the sacrifice has taken a larger form. That being said, the latest course of actions taken by the administration involves reaching individual students through emails and blackmailing them into submission. In the last few days, we’ve received baseless threats speculating that any academic expectations ranging from assignments, internal assessments to end semester examinations, if not met by the students regardless of their year wise association with the university will lead to their expulsion from the University.
Hence, to put things into perspective, this adamant stubbornness by the administration has put the future of a lot of students at stake. Needless to say again that the protest has been maintained to sustain those 40% of students who’ll have to immediately enrol out of the university in case the administration goes through with their exclusionary regulations. This mentioned 40% is a statistical fact. A fact that is either blindly denied by the media houses with biased journalistic tendencies/inclinations, or presented with a sobby narrative by others who seemingly empathize with our cause. The latter sometimes gets more unbearable, as we students, find ourselves in a position where news reporters with their cameraman, in a frenzy, ask us to introduce them to students who are poor or are directly impacted, just so that they can get a news bite for their channels.
Although not one of those, but The Indian Express did publish an article by Aranya Shankar headlining “Farmer’s son to student who lost father, JNU fee hike has many worried”. The mentioned article allowed the reader a voyeuristic gaze into the personal accounts of students who’ll be directly impacted by the fee hike. Needless to say, it demanded a pity to be shown towards underprivileged students and sought to justify a demand by the student body which was already well established by substantial research done by students through looking into admission forms that clearly mentioned the family income of students enrolled in the previous academic years. Having said that, on pragmatic grounds I understand the need to introduce these pieces in order to impact the popular opinion through individual stories, but it’s important to scrutinise this assumption by the media houses about the demands of consumers and what they want to watch, and even if that assumption is accurate then it should be understood that serving these narratives still means feeding into the victor’s narrative, a narrative which demands the justification for an affordable education through individual stories about lives lived in impoverished circumstances. It’s so disheartening that the underprivileged students are being pushed to a space where they are made to feel vulnerable in public.
A confessional speech act is being brutally extracted out of them. Confessions about hardships should be a choice, but in the current regime, it’s being grossly demanded. Students are being measured on a scale of whether they really ‘deserve’ an affordable education or not. This is just another way to conduct institutionalised harassment just like the evil discourse around ‘merit’ that the Brahmanical power elite has played out for so long.
What I am insinuating towards, here, is that we don’t deserve to be a subject of pity, for after all the protests we have been to, after all the unjust police brutality we’ve had to face, while people demand for our encounter by the police on platforms as frivolous as our Facebook comment boxes, we don’t ask for your pity and neither do we deserve it. What we ask for is to be represented with every individual story that’s not intended to extract an orchestrated emotional pity. Personally speaking, the only redemptive sight is to see our voice resonating with the revolutionary voices from other universities across India, and also on the other side of the border. More than their solidarity and support, we want them to simultaneously call out and engage in campus politics so that we’re not the only one called out for liking the culture of protest.
Let us all collectively like the culture of engaging with politics. For the crude upper-caste sensibilities and the Brahmanical middle class, it’s impossible to envision an affordable model for higher education, for what theirs has been is a malicious exercise in marginalising the already marginalised. We mustn’t succumb to their idea of nation-building. All of us, as a student collective, have to be privy in the formation of a university space that stubbornly indulges in the culture of protest and factional politics, the way Baba Saheb Ambedkar himself intended it. For politics mustn’t be considered a choice that’s ‘ideally’ followed after an often celebrated idea of an education that’s achieved in isolation, or for the sake of itself. On the contrary, Politics in university spaces must be considered an immediacy that’s an independent entity in itself, and works in conjunction with an education that’s solely achieved for political transactions, and to bring necessary shifts in spaces outside the university also.
Views expressed are solely those of the author.
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About the Author
Anshul Yadav is currently a freeloader in JawaharLal Nehru University(JNU), New Delhi, where he’s pursuing his Masters in English Literature. He holds a Bachelors in Literature from Hansraj College, University Of Delhi. He is an Ambedkarite and an advocate of factional politics. Currently a second year literature student, he is nowhere to be seen in the vicinity of the Literature Department, so if you plan to find him, you have to visit the School Of Arts & Aesthetics (SAA) Library, where he likes to go and read obscure essays on Art Cinema.