Allegations of beef, “anti-national activities”, and “JNU influence” are now roiling another campus, with the ABVP objecting to students from Kerala studying at Central University, Jammu. On September 21, the ABVP tried to prevent performance by a group of 20 students from the state before a visiting delegation, saying it could have “anti-national” elements, till the university gave the go-ahead. Earlier, a teachers’ delegation led by the ABVP state president met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, during his visit to the state, complaining about “anti-national activities on the campus”.
On September 1, a student from Kerala wrote to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan informing him of the “highly volatile situation” and asking him to intervene on their behalf. The university, which formally started functioning in 2011, has nearly 1,360 students, spread over two campuses, at Sainik Colony in Jammu and Bagla in Samba district. The trouble is restricted to the Samba campus, which has three hostels for girls and one for boys, accommodating nearly 300 students. Around 30 are from Kerala.
CU Vice-Chancellor Professor Ashok Aima confirmed that a faculty member had expressed apprehension that students from Kerala might talk about “Lal Salaam” during their September 21 performance. Pointing out that the show contained “nothing objectionable”, Aima says, “It was malicious, false propaganda. I will look into the matter and initiate action.”
But the tension on the campus has been building up for long, starting with denial of non-veg food and Wi-Fi facility, to the recent Gauri Lankesh protests. Students say a majority of them at the university are non-vegetarian. In February, a group of them from Kerala first raised the issue of poor quality of food at the hostel, and the lack of cleanliness and Wi-Fi facility. They also demanded non-vegetarian food twice a week. “We contacted the hostel warden and proctor, but when nothing happened, we went on a hunger strike. The V-C assured us that everything would be taken care of,” a student who didn’t want to be identified says. According to the students, many from Kashmir too wanted non-veg, but were afraid of demanding it, fearing this could be misconstrued.
A student from Kerala says, “While nothing happened after that, reports started circulating in the media and on WhatsApp groups that people from Kerala along with some teachers with Left orientation, ‘in view of their association with JNU’, were organising close-door beef parties. We were accused of links to Rohingyas, Kashmir separatists and a pro-Pakistan think tank.” Pointing out that they have to go outside the campus to have non-veg food, a student says, “We suggested to the authorities that give us fish and eggs if there is an issue with halaal meat.”
Proctor N K Tripathi says they are wary of the issues that could crop up if non-veg food is allowed, including “beef rumours”. “We live in an area predominantly inhabited by ex-servicemen. If they come (drawn by such rumours), how we will protect the students? Police take time to reach a spot.” He raises similar concerns regarding Wi-Fi, adding, “Every day we read about students from Kashmir facing problems in some part of the country… What if anyone uploads some objectionable post?”
The V-C says the presence of different groups on the campus means non-veg food can become a contentious issue, not just about halaal and jhatka but also about a separate mess for vegetarians. “We try to avoid contentious issues which may lead to tension,” Aima says.
Recently, there was a fresh strain on the campus over the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru. After the students held a condolence meeting on the Bagla campus, the authorities summoned all the participants and told them to concentrate on studies.
On September 19, the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) set up a unit in CU. Students say it was the fear of being targeted by the ABVP that drove many of them to the CPM students’ wing. The same evening, Dean, Academic Affairs, Devanand issued a circular saying, “Activities which are not related to academics will not be permitted.” Devanand defends the circular, “Some students were not attending classes and instead of sitting on university grounds.”
However, SFI national general secretary Vikram Singh argues, “Student organisations are not anti-academic. These only strengthen democracy, debate and discussion, which are the essential part of any university. The ABVP… only acted as a puppet of the V-C.” He calls the circular “selective targeting of students”.
Dr Parvinder Singh, the ABVP J&K head, who also teaches at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology, Jammu, denies trying to control food habits or protests. “Beef is not an issue, but anti-national activities on the campus are. Convening a condolence meeting and paying homage to Gauri Lankesh are okay, but how can some people link the Sangh Parivar with her murder?” he says.
Last week, when the ABVP raised an objection to the dance by Kerala students, held to welcome a visiting NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) team, the students urged the teachers to see the performance for themselves before taking a call. “The ABVP also wanted to sit in, but we said only teachers could watch,” a student says. After watching the dance, the teachers allowed it.
On September 21, ABVP supporters were present when the Kerala group performed. If they planned to protest, it came to nothing. The dance, to the super-hit number Jhimmki Kammal, brought the house down.