In JNU, saffron fails to add flavour to kehwa

Food Politics

On the evening of January 26, a group of Kashmiri students from the Jawahar Lal Nehru University busied themselves to setup a food stall from where they planned to serve kehwa to passersby. This, according to the students involved, was ‘an act of defiance’ after acontroversy broke out over setting up the food stall inside the premises where the International Food Festival was being held.

Moments after the Kashmiri students began serving kehwa, free of cost; dozens of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) supporters converged in front of the makeshift stall and began raising patriotic slogans.

Standing barely a few feet away from the commotion was Banojyotsna Lahiri, an ex-student of JNU, currently teaching at the Ambedkar University, Dwarka. “They are just few people,” said Lahiri when asked about the growing strength of right wing student groups in the campus. A statement which is contested by many who now believe that ABVP is gaining ground in the campus known as a bastion of leftist ideology.

Brinda Bose, who teaches in the same university, while acknowledging that JNU has seen an upsurge of the right said the growing influence might well be a ‘watershed moment’. 

“Saffron is more visible on all campuses of course, as an ethos and a practice. In Delhi University, for sure, but also in JNU, traditionally a left-thinking bastion. But it is not a dramatic turnaround in DU at all, but a continuum. In JNU, one is still to see what happens - whether there will be a watershed moment or not,” Bose told Metrolife while talking about the relevance of student politics in academic institutions.

As far as the right is concerned, the upsurge is certainly not a watershed moment for them. “In the recently held elections, we lost by a mere 250 votes. Around 1000 students had voted for us which is more than five times than what we had been getting over the last few years,” Sumit Kumar Maurya, vice president of ABVP’s Delhi unit said. “The left groups in the campuses of Delhi are in the same state as are the leftist parties of India – in shambles,” he added.

For students here, the turnout of ABVP students in front of the Kashmir stall was not as alarming as thefact that ABVP had managed to pressurise the organisers of the event as well as the administration.

According to Umar Khalid of the Democratic Students Union, the organisers were pressurised by ABVP who allegedly ‘threatened one of the organisers with deportation’.

“Yes they (ABVP) called me but I would rather not talk about it,” said Vanessa Asvin Koumar, one of the organisers of the International food festival. Koumar, who has Indian-French ethnicity, belongs to the International Students association which is responsible for holding the fest. “Truth is we had approached Kashmiri students for a stall where they could serve kehwa. This was after the stall for West Bengal had withdrawn their partipation. Soon things got politicised and the administration suggested that we drop the whole idea,” said Koumar.

“We generously offered to serve kehwa. The banner obviously would have read “Kashmiri Kehwa. Soon we were told to remove Kashmir from the banner and later there were demands that the stall be named Indian stall,” said Shehla Rashid, a studentand member of All India
Students Association.

She added that while Palestine and Tibet were given a space in the festival, Kashmir ‘being a disputed territory should have been featured in the festival’.

“Kashmir is an integral part of India and no anti-national activities will be tolerated in JNU henceforth. Kashmir kehwa should be served under the Indian stall,” declared one of the supporters. The fact that there was no Indian stall at the festival made no difference to the supporter.

“Campus spaces have shrunk for marginal identities. We need to reclaim the free space this campus is known for. The ironical part is the administration uses the same language as that of ABVP,” said Arshi Javid who is pursuing her PhD in South Asian Studies.

When contacted by Metrolife, JNU Vice Chancellor, SK Sopori, denied knowledge of the entire incident. The kehwa, which wasn’t served with saffron, as opposed to the standard recipe, was nonetheless appreciated by many.

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