As a society it is our moral responsibility to safeguard the institutions of learning which can train us to be reflective, critical and thoughtful.
MEHNAZ NAJMI | Caravan Daily
JNU is not just an institute for higher education but an idea of progressive and inclusive India. It is a premier institute at par with international universities that first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru wanted to develop. A place where you have best and invested faculty members, inclusive environment and modern infrastructure, which gives fair chance to all of getting admitted through competition irrespective of their caste, culture, gender, religion or physical capabilities.
Being one of the most reputed and largest institute for research in Social Sciences, it attracts scholars from all classes and parts of the country. It is really disturbing to see self-proclaimed intellectuals questioning the fees, residential facilities and scholarships provided to the students of this central university.
A debate has been started by news channels whether research grants should be given to the scholars especially of Social Sciences or what purpose is it going to serve? A twisted kind of politics is on display where people are made to question the funds allocated for the educational institute. As if a conflict is going on between tax payers and students. These are same tax payers who never question politicians wasting the money on self-serving advertisements, foreign trips or statues!
The recent move by university administration to hike the hostel fees manifold has put several question marks on its role as an excellent institute having its doors open for all. As per reports published in Indian Express, out of 7500 students studying at JNU, parents’ of 1356 students have annual income of around 20,000 rupees per annum. Instead of celebrating the fact that despite being a top university, JNU allows economically weaker students from extremely backward backgrounds and regions an equal chance to compete, enroll and study in the heart of national capital. Not only they are given admission, continuous efforts are made by different student/faculty groups to bring them in mainstream with self-respect and confidence.
Seniors with the help of faculty members run remedial classes to help them with English language nuances and for learning computer applications. It could easily fill itself with all English-speaking students from comfortable upper and middle class backgrounds but it keeps its doors open for all. Almost 70% students are on research scholarships, for which one has to clear entrance exam or meet the requisite research grants criteria.
Scholarships are the result of their efforts and not alms from a tax payers pockets as suggested by the media and WhatsApp propaganda machinery! It is really painful to read the negative/derogatory posts from fellow academicians, who instead of standing with and in support of Educational institute are questioning the characters of students calling it Ayyashi ka adda. How ignorant one has to be in order to give such arguments! Apparently, they are the same people who have never visited JNU or were unable to crack the entrance exam. It seems the mediocrity is questioning the excellence to make itself feel/look better.
Hatred towards JNU is not a new thing, as it has been questioning the prejudices and lame traditions since long. It became more apparent on 10th February, 2016 when concerted effort was made by media and enemies of free speech to paint JNU as a cesspool of anti-national activities and supporter of terrorists, which is nothing but a blatant lie! It all started with doctored videos telecasted by few news channels to defame the protesting students. Students chanting slogans about Aazaadi or freedom against injustice were made to sound like Aazaadi from India, which most definitely was not the case! Cri de cœur to stop discrimination, injustice and inequality was turned into an anti-national slogan of parting away from India.
Media shamelessly called the students of JNU as Tukde-Tukde gang. Due to media trial FIRs were registered against the students and they were arrested like criminals. The nation sat silently and enjoyed the debates by hyper-nationals shouting their lungs out to shut down the JNU. Subsequently, a false narrative was created which made public judge and question the integrity of JNU as a center of excellence. Almost every day one channel or other is questioning the students and their right to education.
Because of paid media JNU’s celebration of dissent has turned into sedition, demand for social justice is portrayed as support for Naxalism; rally against misogyny and standing with LGBT rights activists is branded as debauchery; concern for human rights is turned into sympathy for anti-nationals; rationality and logic is understood as atheism; questioning Brahminical hegemony is converted into a matter of profanation and sacrilege; and a plea for subsidized and affordable education for all is labeled as wastage of tax payer’s money. It is sad to see the silence of intellectuals, the opposition parties and general public who are witnessing the dismantling of an institute of excellence without reacting.
A video is doing rounds on internet where a Professor is seen telling students to allow him and to give way to his lab. When protesting students denied giving him way, he said, scientists don’t involve in protests, had you been a social sciences or humanities students, I would not have been perturbed!! His statement is troublesome as he is not just ridiculing the Social science & Humanities stream but also giving a message that they are not part of higher education at all. It gives legitimacy to the same narrative which questions the research grants and scholarships to these students.
What is worrisome here is the sustained effort to change the characteristic of the institute of higher learning into some managerial/technical training one, where you are governed by some pre-decided prescribed formulas and not allowed to think beyond them. You join the technical institute to learn some skills, not to question them or society or the issues pertaining to it and you are expected to accept the society the way it is. Just like in middle ages Aristotle was banned by the Christians as they found him blasphemous.
Similarly, those who question the modern managerial world running on corporate money are conveniently bracketed as leftists. Being leftist has become some kind of stigma as if you have committed a blasphemy against the sacred capitalistic world order. An order which does not like thoughtful and questioning citizens but only those who are ready to accept everything. Media has successfully converted most of us into silent lot of masses who cannot question the wrongs.
As I look at Lebanon uprising, which started after their government announced new tax proposals. The announcement turned into outright fury at a ruling class that has divvied up power among themselves and amassed wealth for decades but has done little to fix a crumbling economy and dilapidated infrastructure.
Protesters openly took aim at powerful sectarian leaders from their own communities, turning against warlords previously regarded as untouchable and challenging them in their own strongholds. It was an increased charge on WhatsApp which sparked the outrage, initiated by the youth who got the power from media and common man, who came out in support of the protesters carrying national flags and forced Saad Hariri to step down.
If we compare the student’s agitation for demanding their right to education for all at JNU, the public support is negligible. In fact, students are made to feel guilty for taking up the cause of people, which affects each one of us. Instead of support and solidarity, character assassination of female students, slandering the image of institution as a den of sedition and fake porn videos claiming to be from JNU students is being done.
As a society it is our moral responsibility to safeguard the institutes of learning which can train us to be reflective, critical and thoughtful. With no offence to scientists, corporates, managers and bureaucrats, the Social Science and Humanities students are not just the cogs in the wheels of existing dispensations, living on tax payers money but important part who enrich the society by reason, logic and dialectics.
They are not guided by formulas and instead design innovative ways to make society harmonious and livable for all. By indulging in such narratives do not try to turn the university into an institute producing only skilled bank managers for disbursing loans or fabulously marketing brands by hypnotizing us into buying them. Let’s get united and demand for those institutes which produces people with real sensibility to the human and natural world. These endeavors require years of training in humanities, arts, literature and pure sciences.