The JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA), since the last three days, have been conducting a “public enquiry” against Vice-Chancellor (VC) Professor M. Jagadesh Kumar. JNUTA has charged the VC with the cardinal offence of destroying the institutional rules and norms, conventions, ethos and culture of functioning and vitiating the essential foundations that have nurtured JNU as one of the country’s premier universities and enabled it to achieve the purposes for which it was created.
Some of the serious charges that have been pressed against the VC, in addition to the repeated violation of statutory provisions and obligations, are attempts to alter the basic character of the university by undermining the integrity of the faculty selection process and restricting students from joining the university for higher studies and research, violating the Central Educational Institution Act 2006 and the Constitutionally mandated policy of Affirmative action, harassing teachers who disagree or oppose these moves, assaulting democracy and promoting authoritarianism, destroying JNU’s Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy which was achieved after a long struggle of the JNU community and the wider feminist movement and creating an atmosphere of fear among students by allowing to create circumstances behind a student of the university going missing and failing to protect him.
It is for the first time in the five-odd decades of the history of JNU that a VC is undergoing a public trial. And, therefore, it is important to understand what actually has led to this situation where the teachers and students have lost faith in his leadership. When the university was subjected to a vicious vilification campaign, soon after Professor Kumar had taken over as the Vice-Chancellor in January 2016, some wanted it to be viewed as a result of his inexperience as an administrator or newness to JNU and wanted to give him a chance to settle down and prove his potential. But a close examination of the ways in which events unfolded then and in the subsequent months clearly indicates the Vice-Chancellor’s complicity with those forces who want to destroy JNU because it fundamentally invents, allows and supports critical thinking.
It is needless to point out that JNU is one among those few institutions that post-Independence India feels proud about. The research done by students and teachers in JNU is highly respected and valued the world over. Until this VC took over as the head of the institution, JNU was truly representing the diversity of the country through its unique model of deprivation points for regional, economic and gender backwardness, over and above the constitutionally mandated reservation policy for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.
As stated by a Member of Parliament, MC Chagla, during the discussion on the JNU Act in the Parliament in 1966, JNU actually maintained itself not to be a university “intended for children of the rich”, but that of the “most talented boys and girls from all over the country, however poor they may be”. In fact the University went ahead with this objective even in its faculty composition. Its strive towards maintaining this objective also taught not to shy away from critiquing its own efforts, whenever necessary.
With this self-critiquing method, it not only improvised upon the above-stated objective but also created an enlightened mass of people, whom we call the JNU community and who, in some way or the other, have been contributing towards strengthening the democratic foundations of the country.
JNU has been able to achieve its objective because it has always functioned on the basis of a sense of community. It has not been created simply with just a narrow legal framework but with, what one of the jury on the first day of the “public hearing” said, an “ethico-legal” framework, a framework which actually is, and should be, the hallmark of all universities in true sense.
A University is also a highly moral space and this morality is ensured by everybody’s adherence to this ethico-legal framework, which implies not just the statutes but a whole range of conventions. While the ethico-legal framework and the conventions are very important for the academic matters of the university, it becomes more important for the community’s day to day life.
In what has been witnessed in the last 21 months, ever since Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar occupied the seat of the VC, he has shown that he has no respect for the space that is JNU and its ethico-legal framework. He has willfully subverted the process of decision-making through relevant statutory bodies such as the Executive and Academic Council, and usurped all powers to plan, execute and adjudicate matters related to a wide range of academic and non-academic issues. He is trying to take the university far from its objective of pursuing and disseminating knowledge.
JNU’s Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH), an autonomous body of the University, acclaimed as a model by all committees and commissions made to ensure a gender-just society in India, has been replaced by a committee which will run under the wish and command of the VC and his men. Teachers and students opposing such moves are being routinely penalised and harassed, but those who assaulted Najeeb Ahmed, a first year M.Sc. student of Biotechnology, before he went missing on Oct 15, 2016, are let off without any punishment.
This was for the first time in the history of JNU that a student went missing from a hostel inside the JNU campus, but the VC did not show any seriousness in conducting an impartial inquiry into the incident, leave aside protecting those who were feeling threatened by the perpetrators of mob violence inside the university campus. All norms of democratic functioning and conventions that had ensured morality and protected the JNU community have become a thing of the past.
It is in this context that one needs to see JNUTA’s initiative of “public enquiry” against the Vice-Chancellor as a mode of protest to bring out in the public domain a comprehensive picture of the severe damage being done to a public institution and the taxpayers’ resources under the leadership of the present Vice-Chancellor. It can be emulated by all university campuses that have been witnessing the destruction of democratic ways of functioning or where the culture of free debate and exchange of ideas is threatened.