JNU students owing allegiance to Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) say they have been vociferously opposing ‘Afzal Guru Martyrdom Day’ being observed on the campus every year since the Parliament attack convict was hanged in 2013.
“They would be 300, we would be 30… Hum ladai karte aur wapas aa jaate kyunki koi hamari nahin sunta thha (We would fight and come back because nobody would listen to us),” says Alok Singh, head of JNU’s wing of the ABVP. This year a new idea struck Singh. “We decided to shoot the event. A videography team was made. The instructions to student volunteers shooting on mobile phones was simple — whatever happens, keep rolling. Agar hum pit bhi rahe hon, phir bhi (keep shooting even if we are being assaulted)… The idea was to have proof this time so that we could show everyone later what happened,” adds Singh. “We wanted one thing then; those chanting anti-India slogans be punished. We want the same now.”
On February 10, when JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar was delivering a speech, ABVP members decided to hold a march for Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad, the soldier who was buried by an avalanche on Siachen and was battling for life after being rescued. (He died in hospital the next day). Saurabh Sharma, JNUSU joint secretary from ABVP, says, “… We thought we would remind the university of soldiers who protect our borders.”
ABVP supporters in JNU claim the issue was not political to start with, but the situation changed when a host of political leaders including Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi descended on campus. According to Singh, what was a campus issue became a national issue and ABVP was forced to up the ante. So, if the Left had ‘JNU for solidarity’ march, ABVP held a ‘JNU for nationalism’ march. If JNU Teachers’ Association stood behind Kanhaiya and other students, ABVP members engaged with teachers who shared their views. As debates on nationalism raged, ABVP members decided to rally behind the causes of soldiers and ex-servicemen to explain ‘real’ nationalism to teachers taking nationalism classes at the administration block.
In between, ABVP was forced to deal with the resignation of three of its office-bearers, and murmurs of dissent from within.
These days, the organisation holds meetings every day. Singh insists their focus is still the same. “Students who chanted those slogans should be punished. We want the students who haven’t been identified to be identified. We are willing to help, we won’t let the issue drown out in the voices of those trying to protect the students. This is not for revenge, but for truth. Justice should be delivered.”