Amid tension between the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) administration and the students’ union over protests at the administrative block regarding missing student Najeeb Ahmad, the university on Sunday night installed an iron grill near one of its gates. This is the same spot where multiple protests have been organised.
While the university said the grill was put to “carve out space” for offices of administrative officials and staff, official sources told The Indian Express that it was felt the space could be better used for “official purposes rather than as a Jantar Mantar area”. The administration has repeatedly requested the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) to protest at “lawfully allotted spaces” on the campus — a demand often turned down.
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The JNUSU, which discovered the grill late Sunday night during a protest march, alleged that their “spaces of protest” are being taken away by the administration. On Monday evening, as a mark of protest, the NSUI used kalava — a sacred Hindu thread — to spell out Najeeb on the grill.
The administrative block has been the nerve centre of student protest for years. In the aftermath of the February 9 event, when alleged anti-national slogans were raised on campus, the venue had been termed ‘Freedom Square’ or ‘Azadi Chowk’ by some students.
“The grill has been put only at the side entrance to carve out some space. There is a space crunch in the administrative block, and this will be used for creating office space,” JNU vice-chancellor Jagadesh Kumar told The Indian Express.
Official sources said, “The administration has written to JNUSU repeatedly to protest at places near the Kamal (shopping) complex and the JNUSU office. But these students instead protest at places where several people, including foreign dignitaries, come for official work. The main reason is that we had constituted a space panel whose report has come recently, and there is a considerable space crunch because the number of officers has increased. It (the space) can be used for official purposes rather than a Jantar Mantar area,” said a senior university official.
Maintaining that “this is not something wrong; it is to make life in JNU more orderly and convenient for students”, the official said that “if students had been informed in advance, some students would have come and slept at the spot”.
JNUSU general secretary Satarupa Chakraborty said, “This indicates how the JNU V-C is using cheap tactics to prevent students from raising their voices…”