JNU, which had in the past condemned the lynching of innocent people, institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, rape and murder of Asifa, atrocities against the girl child and against women, infant deaths in UP, Bihar and Rajasthan, finds itself at the receiving end of state-sponsored violence.
The Government is targeting JNU teachers and students for their critical thinking and for being critical of the Government.
It is worth mentioning that JNU Teachers’ Association has written as many as three letters to the President of India, who happens to be the ‘Visitor’ of JNU. but is yet to get any reply from our Honorable President of India. But no reply has been received from Rashtrapati Bhavan so far.
January 5 was not the first time JNU students and teachers were attacked. On three different occasions in 2019, they were assaulted by Delhi Police without any provocation. In any other university, the reaction of students would have been very different. But it speaks highly of the discipline of the students in JNU that they gave vent to their ire peacefully.
JNU teachers and students were marching to Parliament on March 23, 2019, to highlight undemocratic decisions taken in the university, including academic autonomy, discrimination, privatisation of hostels, inadequate public funding, irregularities in recruitment etc. when Delhi Police stopped them near the INA market.
Teachers, students and journalists were assaulted and injured. The second incident occurred on November 11, 2019, when peacefully protesting JNU students were assaulted by Delhi Police at AICTE. The students intended to meet the Vice-Chancellor to engage in a dialogue on their concerns regarding hostel fee hike and the arbitrary release of a new hostel manual.
The third such incident occurred on 18th November 2019, when the brutal attack unleashed against JNU students and teachers was caught live on camera and widely circulated thanks to social media. The Police inflicted severe injuries on students on this day, outside JNU and then at Jorbagh. Physically and visually disabled students were also not spared. At Jorbagh, even teachers who had gone as part of a JNUTA delegation to ensure peace were not spared and were assaulted and humiliated.
But the violence which was unleashed on January 5, 2020, was an attack on the university itself and everything that it represents.
I and the President of JNUTA, Professor Lobiyal, reached the Sabarmati T-point around 3:40 pm that day to begin setting up a peace meeting we were organising, including arranging carpets on the road and placing the chairs. In the vicinity, various posters were also placed at strategic points. Many of the posters read “JNUTA for Peace”. We strung up the JNUTA banner between two trees. Around 4:05 pm faculty members began to arrive at the Sabarmati T-point for the meeting.
By the time the meeting started, it was 4:30 pm. Throughout the meeting, I was standing on the platform from which the speakers were addressing the audience, alongside all the speakers. The meeting wrapped up by 6:00 pm, and most of the faculty members were still at the venue, talking amongst themselves.
At the same time, i.e. 6 pm, some students who were passing through the Periyar Hostel Road informed us that a mob armed with iron rods and lathis were waiting outside the Periyar Hostel. The students were fearing violence from the armed individuals who had gathered as an unlawful assembly. We decided to stand there in support of the students and to thwart any untoward incident. Around 6.40 pm, some students informed us that a faculty member who was returning to the campus on his bike was being assaulted by the armed and violent mob.
Within the next ten minutes, we saw the mob marching towards the T-point. We had by then decided that the peace meeting would continue and that the mob could continue their march. At this point, we assumed that the mob would not attack JNUTA members, who were after all teachers.
However, our presumption turned out to be incorrect, for when the violent mob reached the bus stop opposite the T-point, exactly at 6.57pm they started pelting stones at all of us who were at the T-point. This triggered a panic reaction and all of us started running away to evade the brickbatting. For nearly two and half hours thereafter, the mob armed with stones, rods and lathis attacked students and teachers of JNU.
The entire Sabarmati area – Sabarmati-T point, Sabarmati hostel, Sabarmati lawns and road, Sabarmati dhaba– was completely vandalised, ransacked and uprooted. Many students, including the JNUSU President, suffered severe injuries.
The mob indulged in stone pelting and a brutal assault, in which several teachers were injured, some of them suffering head injuries. Vehicles belonging to teachers were also smashed. Subsequently, the New Transit House (NTH) Teachers Quarters were targeted and family members were terrorized, the doors and windows smashed and they were subjected to threats and abuses. The next day, around eighty percent of the students left for home.
The Jawaharlal Nehru University had earmarked a place for protest, i.e Sabarmati Lawns, as per the university rules, and students and teachers had been staging their ‘protests’ and 'dharnas' at Sabarmati hostel lawns. JNU’s Sabarmati lawns symbolised Mahatama Gandhi’s “Non- Violence” and “Ahimsa. But Mahatma Gandhi’s spirit of ‘Ahimsa’ was killed and destroyed that day.
The inaction by police and the government is threatening the future of country’s best University.
For the past 70 years we have been told that ‘India is a developing country’, and its poor cannot afford higher education in private universities. JNU has stood out for the academic excellence it achieved and maintained. However, teaching and learning is impossible if safety and security are not ensured. We remain hopeful that the Government will rise above their party politics and ideologies, and ensure peace.
(The author teaches at the School of Social Sciences, JNU and is the current treasurer of JNUTA)