By Shivangi Narayan
While travelling from RK Puram to JNU, the auto driver asked me why so much police was present on the campus; if there were actual “bombs” that were caught. I told him it was just a few sloganeering students that caught the state’s fancy. He made a face and said: “kamaal hai” (it’s brilliant).
It is indeed brilliant. The debates and discussions in the past week on JNU have now taken a surreal turn for the average student. We don’t know what to make sense of.
We don’t know how we – professors and students at JNU who are involved in the most nationalistic of all causes, imparting and taking in knowledge – have suddenly become anti-nationals.
According to Professor Vivek Kumar, Centre for Study of Social Systems at JNU who echoes sentiments across boards, the institution has been producing the finest bureaucrats, policy makers, media personalities and even politicians for the last 47 years. These people practically run the country (Nirmala Sitharaman, Amitabh Kant, just to name a few). Abroad, their work puts India in the league of most developed nations.
After 47 years of all this work, Kumar asks, how can JNU suddenly become ‘anti-national?
Kumar, came to JNU 25 years ago, calls it his “social mother.” According to him, calling JNU anti-national is questioning the very process of education that enables one to think critically.
One of the standing practices in social sciences is to constantly verify the sources of knowledge rather than taking anything at face value.
We are asked to check the context, and even the time period of a particular work. Nothing is wrong or right but a subject of further analysis. Without such critical thinking, students might as well be mass-produced on an assembly line.
JNU is the only university in India where actual diversity exists. In Professor Kumar’s words, it is an “aspirational university.”
People from Daltonganj to Azamgarh, from dalits and tribals to Muslims and Christians come here to fulfill their dreams because it is actually possible.
Events in history, extreme exploitation, subjugation have given birth to Naxalism in this country. It is a real, existent phenomenon. It involves engaging with the realities of India.
Anti-national? If tribal students from central India want to discuss mining in their hometown, should we brand them as anti-nationals? To do that would be to deny them the space in history that is claimed only by a certain section of a society. As Kanhaiya Kumar rightly said in one of his speeches, JNU is fighting for the marginalised’s right to history in India.
Contrary to everyone’s heartache about taxpayers’ money, there is severe resource crunch in JNU. Good research needs good money. Data needs to be collected. Field visits need to be done. Books need to be bought. Sometimes research associates (RAs) need to be hired. A friend’s friend from Harvard came to India for some research and paid two RAs Rs 1 lakh each for two months of data collection/sorting/tabulation. Can any Indian research scholar dream of doing that?
After paying the mess bill, JNU non-JRF scholars are left with Rs 2,000 for an entire month. People in Delhi spend that amount in one evening on a dinner.
An average research student in the liberal arts, social sciences and humanities, one who has not qualified for the UGC,NET, JRF, lives on Rs 5,000-a-month and Rs 4,000-a-year contingency grant. Postgraduate students do not get any money.
One who has qualified UGC, NET, JRF gets a grant of Rs 25,000 per month and Rs 10,000 per year as contingency grant (for books, photocopies and stationery) in liberal arts, social sciences and humanities.
This UGC grant is for all central universities in India and not exclusively for JNU. And these scholarships come intermittently. During the Occupy UGC protests nationwide against scholarship cuts, students did not receive their scholarship for six months.
Yes, the hostels are subsidised – food is Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500 per month and the security deposit for the rooms, refundable, is Rs 3,000 only. The annual fee for any course is under Rs 200.
But let’s put that in perspective. Young adults enter JNU when they are around 21 years of age, for their post graduation (only one school offers undergraduate courses in JNU, the school of languages, all other schools are post graduation and above).
This is a time when young people want to stop asking for money from their parents. They enter the world of research when many of their peers are getting into the workforce as engineers, advertising professionals, and media persons. At this stage, when they can get any other job paying them upwards to Rs 15,000 a month, is merely subsidising hostel and food enough?
At the research level, students are typically 24 -25 years old. At this stage, when they can’t even ask their parents for money, is mere Rs 5,000 per month enough?
A research scholar’s dissertation is a knowledge product for our country. Policies are made on this research – shouldn’t they be compensated for their work?
If knowledge production is such a wasted job, why do people in India make loud noises when they are told about India’s near absence in patents? Why do we then laud people who excel in research abroad?
Some students in JNU are so poor they have to share their stipend money with their siblings and their parents.
Rohith Vemula sent his JRF money home to his mother. This cannot be seen as an abuse of the fellowship but the only way some bright young minds of this country can enter the education and research system.
There are students in JNU who are brilliant enough to get fellowships in the UK and the US but are so poor that they do not have means to buy the air ticket to avail those fellowships. There is no budget to redress this issue. Most of the times, it is the JNU community including the professors, who come to their aid.
JNU’s annual budget, according to some news reports, is around Rs 150 crore. The total planned expenditure for India for 2014-15 was Rs 4,67,934 crore. The Education budget for the same year was 69,074 crore. One can realize what a miniscule decimal point it is of the higher education expenditure and not something taxpayers need to bleed their heart out.
If we have to compare our education and research with developed countries, we have to also see how much they spend on each student. According to a report in Quartz (http://qz.com/616684/for-stingy-indian-taxpayers-subsidised-jnu-students-are-parasites-but-iit-ones-are-idols/), China spends $2,700 on each student yearly, while India, $400.
The latest event
The whole university has condemned the “India ki barbadi tak” slogans raised in JNU on 9 February. That the university’s premises were used for such an act has also been condemned in the strongest of voices.
It is not even certain whether students raising those objectionable slogans were from the University.
JNU premises are open spaces because the University ethos claim that one needs open mental and physical space for proper thinking.
JNU has strongly rejected being a surveillance campus and contrary to what some news anchors said, not everyone’s ID cards are checked when they enter. Students on foot, in autos, bikes and buses enter and leave as they please.
Yes the slogans were raised. However, were these slogans seditious? Did they incite violence so much so that it would lead to the breaking up of the country?
No, no and no.
In a country where Salman Khan is let off for lack of evidence and Sanjay Dutt, in a TADA case, makes a mockery of his sentence by being more on parole than being in jail, can you blame a JNU student for questioning the legitimacy of the Afzhal Guru trial?
A trial where the judgement itself stated that Guru was being sent to the gallows more to satiate the collective conscience of the people than for satisfactory evidence.
Before people start frothing at their mouths for the slogans that followed, the entire JNU community condemns them and stands for a university-level enquiry into the incident. The student organisers deserve at least a fair enquiry, if nothing else.
But before anyone could look into the incident, find out who said what and sieve fact from fiction the government had begun its trial and the media had given its verdict.
The minimum the government could have done was to get the tapes checked in a forensic lab before arresting the University’s student union (JNUSU) president for sedition.
They could have set up a university-level enquiry first. It is difficult to say who fed on whom but news channels had a field day maligning the one University of repute in this country.
Was it nationalistic to insult JNU, its 47 year old reputation, its students, its culture, its research and its education nationally as well as internationally?
What prospects do now remain for students who are applying for Fulbright and Ford Foundation fellowships; for those who are going to present their papers across India and the world and for those applying for postdoctoral studies abroad?
How has such a swift condemnation of every student of JNU and the institution brought any honour to India’s name?
How can any nationalist be proud of this?
(The author is research scholar, Centre for Study of Social Systems, JNU. She is currently working on 'State Simplification, digital identification and governance in India. Ex. senior correspondent, technology, Governance Now).