For more than two weeks, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has been going through a churning of sorts with three of its students including JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar, along with former Democratic Students’ Union (DSU) members Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya being arrested for sedition.
Alleged anti-India sloganeering by some people at an event organised on February 9 against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and in favour of Kashmir’s right to self-determination organised by Khalid and Bhattacharya among others resulted in the sedition charges being slapped.
Since then, the campus has seen constant protests and programmes, both in favour of and against the arrested students and organisers. The administrative block of the campus has become the place from where the entire ‘Stand with JNU’ movement is being led, with speeches and cultural events scheduled all through the day. Besides the daily public events, a lot more happening on the campus, away from public glare.
The Centre for Historical Studies (CHS), for instance, was to organise its annual Young Scholars’ Conference from February 18-20. But with the events unfolding in JNU, the conference was postponed. “There is no disruption of academics so to say. We’ve been holding classes, and taking mid-semester exams. But this conference, we thought, would be difficult to organise, given the circumstances. So, we’ve postponed it,” said Professor Janaki Nair from the CHS.
Most teachers and students maintain academics is not getting affected, given the flexibility that JNU offers, but some also say that with the arrest of the three students and the overall situation of gloom in the campus, it is difficult to focus on academics.
Professor Mohan Rao from the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health says he has been holding classes and seminars, but his heart has not been in teaching. A workshop organised by him was also “badly affected” by the events.
“We had organised a Delhi Doctoral Workshop for PhD students from February 15-17, in partnership with the other national and international universities. But it was badly affected. Those students who had to present papers – about 30 of them attended, but not many others. To tell you the truth, whatever is happening is profoundly disturbing and my heart has not been in teaching,” he said.
But it isn’t like all programmes are getting affected in campus. Several seminars and workshops have been held successfully without any problem. Professor Asha Sarangi from the Centre for Political Studies says her workshop organised on February 24-25 was “very well attended”. “We had organised a seminar on Territoriality, Citizenship, Migration and Global Governance, as part of an MoU with the University of Edinburgh. Despite the sad development, it was a very well attended programme. In fact six students even presented papers which showed their educational excitement.”
Taking into account the situation on campus and the involvement of students in programmes, some centres have postponed their mid-semester exams to ensure students don’t miss out on their education.
“Officially, we can’t say that the exams have been postponed for this reason, but in reality that is the reason. The exams which were to start last Friday will now be starting on Monday. The first few days were affected more because the JNUSU was on strike, and even the JNUTA had given a call for a one-day strike, but it’s better now. About 60 per cent students of my class have been coming. In fact, if we get any form of victory, the first thing we’d want is to restore academic normalcy,” said a teacher from the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning. The teacher did not want to be named.
A student from the School of Social Sciences (SSS), perceived to be the one of the schools most affected by the events, said education was back on track with the movement continuing simultaneously. “We make it point to go for each of our classes and give our exams. But we also make it a point to attend the nationalism classes at the administrative block every evening.”
Even students aligned with ABVP and teachers sympathetic to them say academics has not been affected barring the first few days. “In our centre, classes were being held right from the beginning, and even the science schools weren’t as affected. The social science schools were affected in the beginning, but classes are being held there too. I wouldn’t say the situation is back to normal completely, but it is more or less there,” said Professor Girish Nath Jha from the Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies.
The events unfolding on campus have had an impact on some hostels, which have postponed hostel nights.
Voices against disruption
“Our primary jobs as teachers is to teach. Students in my center have suffered drastically due to strikes called by JNUTA. For them it is a day-long or week-long strike, but for the students it means rearranging their entire timetables and itenaries, and for us it means working out fresh schedules,” said Professor Anita Singh, Chairperson, Center for Law and Governance.
Claiming that a handful of teachers were holding the whole university hostage through ‘immature decision making’, Professor Ramnath Jha questioned whose interests the teachers were protecting. “JNU has more than 650 teachers. Yet only 100-odd teachers are calling the shots, forcing others to follow… A teacher’s job is to teach, and not engage in politics. They should have faith in the law.”
Professor Mandira Dutta from the School of International Studies also endorsed the view adding that teachers shouldn’t interfere in student matters.
A section of teachers in JNU, who do not associate themselves with the Left, had earlier threatened to split from JNUTA and form a separate body of teachers. “Hamare kaam mein rok aa rahi hai (Our work is being hindered). Students want to study, but they keep calling strikes. We haven’t boycotted our classes though. I have been conducting classes even during the strikes,” said Professor Hari Ram Mishra from the Sanskrit Department.