It’s Young India vs Modi!

It’s Young India vs Modi!

Student revolt: youth from across india say they are fighting a battle for the soul of India


Jawaharlal Nehru and the university that bears his him, both make the BJP-RSS frown. They are both symbolic of ideas that are antithetical to the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah regime. Nehru is long dead, but this regime is so troubled by JNU that it unleashes the State’s entire oppressive and repressive machinery against it at every opportunity.

JNU symbolises academic excellence, critical thinking and contribution to the betterment of society. A JNU education has never been just about teaching and learning theories, solving text-book problems and building a ‘Yes Sir/Yes Ma’am’ culture. Education is not only to learn, but more importantly to unlearn the biases and prejudices we grow up with it, to fight oppression, to eradicate discrimination, stand by the marginalized and fight for the truth.

The composition of JNU is a representative sample of India. Students from the most deprived and marginalized backgrounds who come into JNU with deprivation points (regional deprivation and gender-based), see the university as a way to liberation -- economic, social, political, psychological. Its low fees mean the doors are open for everyone. It has shown the world that when given the opportunity of quality education at an affordable cost, everyone can succeed. JNU is an opportunity in this rather discriminatory world for the marginalised.

That is why JNU leads the struggle against every attack on the idea of education it upholds, its students have occupied and slept at the gates of the UGC for months, seeking restoration of non-NET fellowships for MPhil-PhD programmes. That is why, JNU students could immediately relate to Rohith Vemula and fought for justice for him. But all this hurts those who want to divide society on the basis of wealth, caste, religion, language, race and gender. This scares the government, not just the dissent but our will to risk everything for it. This spirit of standing up for what we value has resulted in false and politically motivated sedition cases against students since 2014, the year the BJP came to power. For a regime that plans to build its fortress on lies, the one of truth has to be destroyed first. JNU is that fortress.

2014 changed everything for JNU. The belief, the quality and the very nature of its existence. The government has run every nasty trick in its book against this university of 8,500 students to subjugate it. We fought back, we were termed “anti-nationals.” The amount of hatred propagated against the university throughout the country made us outsiders in our own nation, our own people wanted us dead, and we were condemned and ridiculed daily. We have seen it all -- lynch squads, trolling, hatred, attempts to terrorise us – since 2014. Yet, JNU students have continued to show their academic excellence, reflected in continuous highest NAAC grades, research and patents.

The attacks have now become multi-pronged. Massive seat cut, funds cut, diversion of funds from academic purposes to construction of statues, false cases against students and even teachers, proctorial enquiries, lakhs of rupees collected as fines, appointment of teachers with dubious academic records, including charges of plagiarism. It has, in fact, become normal in JNU, just like in the government, to reward goons with jobs. A man accused of assaulting two former JNU Students’ Union presidents and who faces several cases of violence was recently appointed as an assistant professor by the JNU vice chancellor.

Since the May election victory, the Modi-Shah duo have acted as if they are not answerable to anyone -- neither to the people, nor to the Constitution on which they took oath. They have gone on a rampage – from diluting RTI to unilateral abrogation of Article 370 to making citizenship a matter of religion through the CAA-NRC/NPR, all in a matter of six months. All this accompanied by the highest unemployment rate since the 1970s, massive fee-hikes in public universities, including at JNU, and an ever-falling GDP. With each unrelated crisis, the attack on JNU has intensified.

Starting with the change in the mode of entrance system -- from a written examination to a (dumbed-down) online entrance test, which is exclusionary -- the composition of the university is sought to be altered. The student’s union and the very democratic processes that lead to its election have faced multiple hinderances from the administration. Indeed, the administration’s refusal to recognise the newly-formed students’ council clearly gave out a message that student representatives were being excluded from the university’s decision-making process; and then came the draft of the hostel (IHA) manual which, if implemented, will be an attack on the very soul of JNU.

But I will proudly say, if the attacks have multiplied and intensified, so has our will to fight and resist. JNU stood up when no-one stood up. It persisted when everyone else gave up.

It fought back when it was written off. And it is resisting the might of the State. Despite blood, trauma and despair, students are sacrificing their research, education, lives, careers and studentship because we sincerely believe that JNU represents an idea of India that we cannot let die – the idea of India that our freedom fighters envisioned during the freedom struggle.

Today, the JNU that the regime tried to kill has spread like a wildfire throughout the nation. The ‘azadi’ slogans that were once symbolic of us JNU ‘anti-nationals’ now echoes from every street, every protest gathering. JNU was used by the BJP for its policy of hate and division. Now, the battle of JNU is uniting Young India, spreading love and fighting back to reclaim a socially and gender-just India. JNU and India are synonymous, the death of JNU means the burial of the India that was born in 1947. This is what Young India is uniting and fighting against.

Students have come to be the opposition the nation seems to have lost, and a resilient one at that. They are proving that education can be used to fight every oppression, every division. Being a student means learning to be human in the true sense. JNU teaches one to be a student, a lifelong one.

(The writer is a PhD student, and was president of the JNU Students’ Union in 2018-19)

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