In Fact, India Should Have Many More JNUs - Here's Why

JNU conjures up different images for different people. For many, it's the last proverbial Red Island in India. After getting wiped out in the rest of the country, save for exceptions like Kerala, JNU continues to be a hotbed of Left activism. It's also however true that with the rise of the RSS-affiliated ABVP, the Left has had to think of broad-based alliances. In the last few years, various Left groups have come together to fight the ABVP.

JNU in the recent past has been badmouthed. A former BJP legislator from Rajasthan infamously stated how "one often found used condoms in JNU". In the more recent past, the university has been clubbed with the "tukde tukde gang".

In the tumult that followed the fee hike announced by the JNU administration, almost all student groups took to the streets to protest. While the merits of the fee hike can be debated, what should worry us is that in the period that followed the fee hike, even professors were held hostage for as long as 30 hours by Left groups and were made to forcibly sign on memoranda.

In the 90s, when the ABVP was making its presence felt in the university, the Left brigade often called ABVP activists "lumpens". In the present context, it appears that a new class of lumpens has emerged in the university for whom even the sanctity of a Swami Vivekanand idol holds no significance.

For the majority of students at JNU, the university is nothing short of a life-changing experience. If you've heard that education empowers and emancipates human beings, it's best experienced in the classrooms of JNU. For many students, JNU is also their first school of political socialization. Like this author, who spent time in the university in the 90s, JNU helps one realize in the truest sense what the Preamble of the Indian Constitution strives for. Democracy, liberty, fraternity, an equal social order may sound utopian or like mere Constitutional niceties, but a JNUite lives all these - and much more.

It's precisely due to this reason that it hurts when JNU is dubbed as a hotbed of anti-national activities and demands are raised to close down the university.

JNU has traditionally welcomed and encouraged pluralism and diversity of opinions. For instance, in the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, where I studied in the 90s, we celebrated diverse Indian authors ranging from Prof Yogendra Singh to Prof Ashis Nandy to Prof Avijit Pathak. And teachers, too, were accommodating. To cite one instance, when someone as politically charged as Prof Anand Kumar (the founder of a group called "Free Thinkers", he taught Political Sociology, then joined Arvind Kejriwal only to chart his own course later) used to quote "Gandhi, Lohia, JP" during the course of his classroom lectures, and if someone interjected, "What about Deendayal Upadhyay and Syama Prasad Mookerjee", he would say, "Oh, yes, them too".

To repeat, JNU exemplifies pluralism and diversity of thoughts.

In the 90s, when the CPI-ML-backed AISA made a stunning debut at JNU and the ABVP was an emerging force, civility used to mark debates and exchanges. Every individual knew they had a place in the universe of ideas. To quote another real-life instance: Chandrashekhar, an AISA leader who wanted to make Bihar's Siwan his karmabhoomi, would surprise someone like me, knowing fully well that we were ideological opposites, with "Saathi, Bastar chaloge?"

Little surprise then that when Chandrashekhar was murdered in Siwan (Bihar) in 1997 by the henchmen of the RJD's Syed Shahabuddin, the entire university went to Bihar Niwas in Delhi to protest, where they were made to face a gun-brandishing Sadhu Yadav, brother-in-law of the then Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Yadav.

Only at JNU will you find a first-generation learner, the son of a MNREGA worker, the daughter of an aanganwadi worker, and a St Stephen's graduate rubbing shoulders in a classroom.

While it's true that that currently JNU students pay as good as nothing by way of hostel fees, the fact is that many students would be edged out of the system if they had to pay the revised fees.

But the university does have a problem at hand. Student activism is and should be welcome, otherwise you won't get the leaders of tomorrow. And this will only ensure that moneybags and caste satraps dominate the system. But goondaism and a group of students holding an entire system to hostage must not be allowed. Those who have experienced JNU will vouch for the fact that classroom lessons at JNU are always a dialogic process. If students get to learn, so do the teachers. How does then one justify elected student representatives preventing students from taking exams?

Also, fringe groups assaulting the very idea of India and Constitutional norms in the name of freedom of expression is simply not acceptable.

JNU has always encouraged critical thinking. The spirit of inquiry pervades a JNUite's overall existence. JNU is often voted as the top university in the country in almost all surveys. Little wonder then that JNUites have enriched India and Indian public life like very few national institutions have.

By letting this university get derailed due to a handful of misguided elements, even if they are the elected students' union, is to do a national disservice.

JNU must function normally and thrive. At the same time, we should let a thousand flowers bloom in JNU. And let the government understand that we need to encourage more JNU-like institutions, rather than the other way round.

(The author, a JNU alumnus, is a journalist-turned-communications professional.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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