VC Adamant, Students' on Warpath: JNU Legacy at Stake

The indefinite strike by the students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University intensifies as protestors demand immediate revocation of rustication and out of bounds orders passed by the University Vice Chancellor 

Samarth Pathak Delhi, Hardnews

The prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) remains on the boil as the indefinite hunger strike called by the students continues for the seventh day on Wednesday. The protestors are demanding an immediate revocation of the rustication and out of bounds orders passed against five (including three office bearers of the JNU Students' Union -JNUSU) by the Vice Chancellor BB Bhattacharya on February 25.

While nine students, including the JNUSU president Sandeep Singh and Joint Secretary Mobeen Alam are fasting indefinitely, the others are supporting them through a relay hunger strike in groups of 30 students. Sitting outside the vice chancellor's office and administrative block of the varsity, the students remain in high spirits as their protest to "reclaim JNU from the vested interests of commercialisation" gains momentum.

Earlier, the VC had issued the unprecedented rustication and out of bounds orders against the president, vice president and others after the JNUSU picketed peacefully on one counter where the prospectus was being sold. They were protesting against the hike in the prospectus fees as well as "rampant commercialisation" of the JNU campus, including the move to sell on rent the famous Parthasarthy Rocks in JNU to film producers etc.

The proctor's office apparently gave a show cause notice to the JNUSU at 2 pm on Feb 25, and without waiting for a proper reply, immediately issued the rather high-handed rustication orders. This is unprecedented point out JNU teachers and former students' union leaders.

The last time such an event had happened was in 1983, when a show cause notice to the president had led to a massive gherao of the VC, violent and brutal commando action by the then Lt Governor of Delhi, Jagmohan, reportedly under the orders of Indira Gandhi, and finally jail for more than 350 girls and boys who spent more than 12 days at Tihar Jail, after courting arrest peacefully. This followed a mass agitation and several rustications etc, and punitive action.

But the memories of the 1983 agitation stayed, and was revived in 1989, when the students' union led by Solidarity, an independent group of progressive students, went on a 19 day peaceful hunger strike and marked a rupture in the history of JNU politics, while reviving the old radical, non-dogmatic, intellectual and progressive tradition, and strengthening the student's union and the great legacy of JNU.

The current agitation began earlier last month when the authorities decided to hike the price of the JNU prospectus from Rs 120 to Rs 200. "JNU stands for equality of opportunity, and is open to everyone regardless of their financial backgrounds. A hike of Rs 70 may not mean anything to the urban populace, but it means a lot to those coming from rural backgrounds. It is essentially a step to systematically cut off financially weak candidates from applying to JNU," says Kamlesh, an MA student sitting in the hunger strike.

The rustications happened when JNU students blocked one counter where forms were being sold as a mark of protest. Kamlesh adds, "We were peacefully protesting, and had told all the outsiders to come after 2-3 days to avoid the inconvenience. The authorities termed it unruly and gave a notice of just one hour to the students before rusticating them."

Bhattacharya's recent announcement of providing the prospectus free of cost to below poverty line students has also received severe criticism from students. Many feel it is just an eyewash. Rita, a protestor, told Hardnews, "How many students belonging to the BPL categories get into universities? They do not even have access to primary education. Ironically, it is being hailed as a historic decision."

Commercialisation of the varsity is what has agitated the student community the most. The bones of contention, according to the students, are many and as follows:

The clearing up of JNUites favourite hangout place, the famous Parthsarthy Rocks is one. The construction of benches in the campus (which students claim is a waste of money since they are never used),  the installment of electricity meters for hostel rooms (which, as a student said, "means that in the eyes of the authorities, appliances like heaters are luxuries"), the wastage of funds in procuring useless, expensive and totally irrelevant books for the library (which, inspite of costing several lakhs, have not been ordered by any student committee or faculty) and the installation of plasma TV's in the departments (displaying unnecessary information) which have fuelled the ire of the students.

Bhattacharya's relationship with the students is in the tatters. A student who requested anonymity reckoned, "He never talks to his students, and hence does not know or care how we feel. His decision to treat JNUSU as illegal reflects this." (Incidentally, Hardnews found that the authorities were not allowing the protestors to access the nearest toilet facility.) He adds, "I feel he has an ego problem. Only that would explain why he does not wish to go back on his decision. However, we are resilient and if things do not change for the better, we will take this protest to the next level. Already, we have garnered huge support from some of our teachers, alumni, students from other varsities like Jamia Millia Islamia and even the Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Group."

Says Sandeep Singh, with a gleam in the eye, "We have resolved to protest against the neo-liberal tactics of the VC. We will not back down, come what may, and we call on everyone who supports our cause to join us in this peaceful protest."