Nationalisms in conflict, protest in the air at JNU

Nationalisms in conflict, protest in the air at JNU

We don't see academics and protests in contradiction to one another,” JNUSU Vice President Shehla Rashid Shora said after the Supreme Court transferred Kanhaiya Kumar’s bail plea to Delhi High Court on Friday evening.

The atmosphere on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus is charged nowadays. Every now and then students come out to sit in protest outside the administrative block which also houses office of the newly appointed vice chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar.

There are classes on nationalism by eminent professors at 5 pm every day. An open flight of stairs on one side of the building hosts these classes. Sometimes political orators and theatre artists occupy these stairs as a podium for their performances. Standing atop, one can see graffiti that urges people to exercise free speech.

Ever since the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) President Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on February 12 in a case of sedition and criminal conspiracy over an event on the campus against the hanging of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, these stairs have not been empty for long barring one occasion.

Early this week on Thursday, JNU students took the protests outside the campus and thousands marched from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar after a backlash grew against the government’s decision to arrest Kanhaiya on colonial-era charges. Students hired as many as 15 buses to reach Mandi House.

The JNUSU claimed that nearly 12,000 people participated in the march. Shora says the union has received over 20 letters expressing solidarity with its demand for Kanhaiya’s release.

“The BJP government is interested in branding activists as seditionists,” she says, alleging that not enough has been done to investigate who are behind the anti-India slogan raised during the controversial February 9 incident.

As protests spilled outside JNU, a group of students organised a public meeting outside the Delhi University’s Faculty of Arts. “Some slogans were outrageous, but any liberal society runs on the principle that those who shout slogans should not fear for their safety. If they are not safe, we are not safe,” DU alumnus Abhishek Rai tells protesters packed in a barricaded space outside the Faculty gate.

Gaurav Jain, a law student, who created a Facebook invite with his classmate Rohan Kathpalia, tells Deccan Herald he did not expect a large gathering. “I told the cops that we will be done in 20 minutes,” he says, as RSS-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad protesters try to shoo away Kanhaiya supporters, chanting slogans such as “Anti-nationals, go back”.

Police guarded the barricades preventing two warring camps from engaging in any argument. Minor scuffles broke out later when protesters were dispersing.
Having won all four seats in the Delhi University Students’ Union last year, the ABVP dominates the campus politics in the university. Earlier, the RSS-affiliate had asked the History society of Ramjas College to not host “Left-leaning historian” Romila Thapar’s lecture on secularism.

The Left-dominated JNUSU however, is getting an array of support from academia and beyond. “The resistance against state crackdown on JNU grows stronger. Join solidarity meeting today from 4 pm onwards. Honda workers movement activists will join in solidarity at 4 pm. Lecture on nationalism from 5 pm by G Arunima. Aisi Taisi Democracy by stand-up comedian, Sanjay Rajoura from 7 pm,” reads a list of events issued by the student union on Saturday.

“As and when developments take place we will keep shifting strategy,” the JNUSU vice president says, eyeing a long battle ahead for “fighting sedition charges and academic suspension of students”. On Umar Khalid, who is alleged to have masterminded the February 9 “anti-India” protests, Shora says the eight students whom the university has put under suspension pending a disciplinary inquiry are “Indian citizens” and “entitled to certain legal rights”. Delhi Police is on a look-out for Khalid and others.

“I think the real issue is whether they will receive free trial,” Shora says, as many JNU students continue to do sit-ins or attend lectures and cultural programmes outside the administrative block in solidarity with students charged with sedition.

“There has been no single conviction since 1962 on charges of sedition,” Shora says, alleging that the Centre is using the law to “suppress dissent”.

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