As JNU student Najeeb Ahmad saga drags on, the real issue is in danger of being obscured
Nearly two weeks since Najeeb's disappearance, gheraos, hoarse throats and a human chain later, nothing has changed.
It was a surreal scene. On 23 October, a foot from the vice-chancellor’s gate, missing JNU student Najeeb Ahmad’s mother broke down. Asking for her son back in a series of inconsolable wails, she left hundreds looking on in complete silence. They had no answers for her, only vows of solidarity. Students, teachers, and security guards all bore mute witness to this sad culmination of Najeeb’s unexplained absence, which is fast gaining disturbing undertones.
Off the heels of a ‘scuffle’ where he allegedly slapped a fellow student at Mahi-Mandavi hostel, he was thrashed by around 10 people at the same hostel, reportedly in front of the warden. At some point after this, he made a call to his mother in Badaun, telling her what had transpired, and mysteriously disappeared the day after. The campus took its time to erupt, and it was days before the student body managed to accost the hazy administration. Nearly two weeks, gheraos, hoarse throats and a human chain later, nothing has changed. A student is missing from the university and there are all kinds of possibilities.
Najeeb was allegedly beaten up by a group comprising of mostly BJP-affiliated ABVP cadres and sympathisers on 14 October at around 11:30 pm. It is unclear if his religious identity was a factor. At this time, only speculation is possible and all angles need consideration. With every passing day (it is now 12 days) that Najeeb remains untraced, theories are increasing in number and getting darker, without any new information to prove or debunk anything. It is within the realm of possibility that 1) He is safe, kept hidden (for reasons unknown) by a political faction. This, however, would be at odds with the various political groups and JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) asking ‘Where’s Najeeb?’, and would cause a storm in JNU. 2) He is within campus somewhere, hiding alone or with aid. This is most unlikely. With the issue permeating the entire campus, a person who wants to be out of sight will likely leave. The police, too, do not seem to regard this as a viable lead as they have not scanned the university. 3) He has been abducted by persons unknown and taken somewhere for personal or communal reasons (here, the potential results are unnerving). 4) Succumbing to the stress of the entire affair, he ended his life. 5) He left campus (where he did not know too many people, having recently joined the university) and went to an apolitical, unrelated contact in fear and emotional upheaval.
Not all of these theories are plausible and even the ones carrying hope throw up some curious questions. Najeeb’s mother and sister have been in JNU for days. Would he, if safe and well, not have decided to make contact, especially given that he had called his mother soon after suffering the violence? There is a missing person’s report and a Rs 1 lakh reward for information on his whereabouts. It has been in the media and is steadily getting political. Perhaps, if safe, Najeeb would have gotten in touch with someone, considering the increasing scale of the matter and his mother’s condition. Unless he is consumed by fear and stress, does not want the inevitable attention and so is delaying things.
Other possibilities, which do not assume Najeeb’s well-being, ride on the fact of his prolonged absence from campus. It does not make sense at this time, however, why a new student at the Department of Biotechnology, with no political affiliations, would be the target of any foul play. It is hard to imagine that slapping somebody, while brutish and unacceptable, would illicit the kind of backlash which would have a person abducted. In any case, it is all just speculative at the present and the best lead may well be eyewitness accounts of Najeeb taking an autorickshaw shortly before he went missing.
On the other hand, what is quite clear is that the matter is being prematurely politicised. The facts just aren’t there yet. Accounts of incidents are varying student-to-student and faction-to-faction. In this confused and contradictory atmosphere, there are many presumptions and hasty jumping to agenda-informed conclusions. Three days after Najeeb was thrashed, the JNU Student’s Union (the president of which is from CPI-ML-affiliated AISA) printed a pamphlet demanding strict action against ‘communal hate-mongering’ and claiming that there were ‘repeated attacks’ even afterwards, without offering proof for the same. The next day, another JNUSU pamphlet claimed that Najeeb had been ‘brutally mob lynched’ by ABVP and security and students alike bore witness to the ‘heinous lynching’.
Terms like that carry fatal connotations and were incorrectly applied by all accounts. It was highly irresponsible of JNUSU to print such things and smacks of political agenda. Such loaded, deliberate usage of language heightens tensions, spreads misinformation and gives the wind to rumours. The student body should know better than to risk further polarisation by behaving like the ABVP (sections of which, conversely, are claiming that the Najeeb is ‘with AISA’, without proof). The students’ union cannot give ammunition to the administration and the ‘parishad’, which, as the last many months have proved, are entities keen on destabilising the hitherto academic, secular and democratic fabric of JNU.
In all this, the real point is getting obscured; a student is missing after a violent incident and needs to be located. That is what the energies need to be focused on. Political posturing can at least wait till Najeeb is traced and facts are found. Students from any political colour (and independents) could better serve by pressing the Vasant Kunj North thana’s SHO and IO for progress on the case. They could pose questions and provide cues to the police instead of blaming and shaming each other without the full picture.
The situation outside the vice-chancellor’s residence on the 23 October was a grim one. Anxious teachers stood tensely. Students were compelled to break routines and step out to demand answers. A grief-stricken mother was screaming for answers. The Vice Chancellor Jagadesh Kumar did not step out to address her. The hostile JNU security exclusively placed female guards as the first line of defence outside the gate, in a tactic putting the current administration’s mentality on display.
All in all, the campus was and continues to be tense. Najeeb has been missing for nearly two weeks now and the need of the hour is to procure new information about him. This cannot turn into an MH 370-like situation where the search for the missing plane is till going on for over two-and-half years now. The extremely urgent issue is that the missing student should be located forthwith and instilling political dimensions are of no practical use. Anything else is just providing fodder to those actors, inside and outside JNU, who would use student bodies’ hasty words to malign the university once again. This is the time for the campus to unite to tide over the crisis and not to display its own infighting and further polarise the scenario.
As Najeeb’s sister said after her mother had spoken, "… We want Najeeb back, but we want him back the right way."
Note: This is an amended version of an earlier article, which was edited to retain some of the author’s original assertions.
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