From the Team of “Spark – Voice of Youth”
An Initiative of the Lok Raj Sangathan
9 Mar 2016
During the last few months, the attacks on students and universities have featured prominently both in the print and electronic media. It started with IIT Madras and the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. Then came the news of the suicide of Rohith Vemula and the students’ actions in Hyderabad Central University. The last few weeks have been filled with daily coverage of the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. There have been also reports of students’ actions from universities in Delhi, Lucknow and Jadhavpur.
Suddenly, a group of students is being called ‘anti-national’ and/or ‘terrorist’ and another group ‘nationalist’. Students’ right to agree or disagree with a particular viewpoint is under attack. Critical thinking is under question. Students fighting for their rights are being attacked by the police. Social media has become toxic.
Don’t you think that as students and young citizens we should look at issues rationally and check the facts before taking sides? Should we not form opinions after looking at the problem from all directions? Let us remember the true purpose of education. Let us not give up our right to think critically.
Let us remember these facts:
- Students in JNU were suspended by the Vice Chancellor (VC) without being given a chance to explain their side.
- Police was allowed by the JNU VC into the campus and allowed to search dormitories, even girls’ dormitories, while the Jadhavpur VC refused the police permission to do so and said that the University would take actions against students, if required.
- The Delhi police has admitted to the Court that it had no video evidence of Kanhaiya Kumar chanting anti-India slogans.
- The Delhi Police has handed over the case of JNU students to the Anti-Terror cell, thus assuming that the students are terrorists! But what kind of terrorists come out and raise their voices and opinions openly in public? Do not terrorists work secretly?
- The Joint Secretary of the ABVP JNU unit, as well as the President and Secretary of the ABVP unit of JNU School of Social Sciences (SSS) resigned and dissociated themselves from all activities of the ABVP due to differences on the organization’s handling of the current JNU incident, their views on the Rohith Vemula incident and on the Manusmruti. This is what they have to say: “The way government is tackling the whole issue, the oppression on professors, repeated lawyer attacks on media and Kanhaiya Kumar in court premises is unjustifiable and we think there is difference between interrogation and crushing ideology and branding entire left as Anti-National.” “….In this whole process we also condemn the media trial which has culminated in anti-JNU sentiments throughout the country. Today we all must stand together to save JNU which has given us identity, we need to come across party lines to save the reputation of this Institution to save future of JNUites as more than 80% of students don’t belong to any political party. So let’s unite to save this JNU culture”
- A demand for closing JNU has been raised, calling it a den of “anti-nationals”. JNU is the internationally most well-known university of India due to its academic excellence. It ranks higher than many well-known IIT’s and NIT’s in world rankings.
- Admiral Ramdas, who retired as Chief of the Indian Navy in 1993 after serving for 45 years has commented, “JNU has been a frontrunner in producing thinkers and professionals who are not scared to speak out. Frankly, after listening carefully to the speech of the young union leader – Kanhaiya – it left me with a reassuring feeling that all must be well in this complex and disparity riddled country if a young man in his twenties can speak with such compassion, intellect and passion about the real challenges and dangers we face in this land.”
- FIRs are being filed under the Sedition Act even against people supporting the struggle of JNU students! Even the Britishers did not dare to do this.
Can we call all the following people who have come out in support of the JNU students ‘anti-national’?
- The senior journalists and editors of newspapers like The Hindu, The Indian Express, The Economic Times, who said, “We oppose the arrest of the JNU Students’ Union President, Kanhaiya Kumar, on the absurd charges of sedition.”
- The Central University Gujarat Teachers’ Association, which expressed its solidarity with the JNU academic fraternity and demanded that the President of the JNU Students’ Union, Kanhaiya Kumar, be released immediately.
- Faculty and students of nearly 40 universities, including Delhi University, IIT Madras, TISS, IIT Bombay, Aligarh Muslim University, IIM Bangalore and ILS Law College Pune.
- Faculty and students from many universities abroad such as Boston University, Syracuse University, Colgate University, and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, University of Warwick, KU Leuven Belgium, Purdue University, Oxford and Cambridge.
- The Government used the full force of the police to crush the 139-days-long strike of the FTII students against the unjust and inappropriate appointment of the members of FTII Society. False allegations were made against students, and 12 students were taken into custody by police in the dead of the night. These students still have to attend court hearings for false charges. They were also called “anti-national” and “Naxalites”!
- The Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle of IIT Madras was banned by the authorities of IIT Madras under the direction of Human Resource Ministry because the students opposed the policies of the Government. The ban was withdrawn after students all over the country protested and fought for the right to express their views.
- Thousands of students were on protest against the discontinuation of the Non-NET fellowship, which would have left them without the means to continue with their Ph.D. The Delhi Police was ordered to lathi charge a peaceful march of these students, which led to serious injuries to many protestors, both men and women.
- Rohith Vemula and his fellow students from the Hyderabad Central University were targeted because they boldly propagated their political and social views, exposed discrimination against Dalit students by authorities, and the humiliation these students faced. The unbearable harassment faced by him led Rohith to take his own life. His suicide brought into focus the discrimination faced by Dalit students and the attitude of authorities towards them.
- Journalists covering the demonstration, organised by a Joint Action Committee (JAC) of student organizations for justice in the Rohith Vemula suicide case in Delhi heard the officers order a lathi charge on unsuspecting students in which many students were injured. The police then smashed the cameras of journalists covering the event to eliminate proof of the savage violence unleashed on the students.
- Afzal Guru is assumed to be and referred to as a terrorist, but the Supreme Court (SC) found no evidence of his belonging to a terrorist organization. Despite inadequate evidence, lapses and violation of procedural safeguards, the SC judgment said, “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender.” He was awarded the death penalty and hanged. The group of JNU students are not the first to question his hanging. Many senior lawyers of the Supreme Court have questioned the hanging. Even the then Minister Chidambaram now says that it was a mistake to hang him!
- More than 11 states, including all the big ones, are reeling under severe drought; but the raging agrarian crisis is left to its own fate by the rulers. A Member of Parliament (MP) in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra said about the suicides of farmers in his region —“Let these farmers fend for themselves. If crops fail, they will figure out what to do. And if they are dying, let them die.” This statement invites no actions! This is not an anti-national statement, according to the rulers!
- The government says it has no money to pay the monthly stipend of Rs. 5000 to Rs. 8000 to non-NET Ph.D. students, who number around 30,000. The total annual expenditure involved is less than Rs. 200 crore.
- But the government has enough money to give subsidy of Rs. 1 lakh crore to the super rich every year (as per the Economic Survey of 2016), to give a subsidy of Rs. 23,000 crore to fertilizer companies and to write off the loans of nearly Rs. 1 lakh crore given by banks to big industries and their owners!
Let’s also remember that:
- Kanhaiya was not the organizer of the meeting in JNU.
- A Zee News producer, Vishwa Deepak, resigned over the channel’s handling of the JNU affair, declaring, “My conscience has started to revolt!” In his resignation letter he stated, “… The video didn't have any "Pakistan Zindabad" slogans at all – yet we played it repeatedly to spread madness and mayhem. How did we believe that some voices coming out of the dark belonged to Kanhaiya and his companions?...” This doctored video was used by the police to arrest Kanhaiya and others.
- The Home Minister declared that the charged students of JNU are linked to “the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)” based on a tweet from a fake account. However, the LeT denied it had anything to do with JNU incident!
- The Supreme Court judgment on sedition has clearly stated the shouting of any slogans cannot be considered sedition unless people are incited to violence.
- Umar Khalid, one of the accused, is being labelled as a Jihadi. In reality he is an atheist who does not follow any religion. How can he be a Jihadi?
- Umar’s Ph. D. supervisor for five years, Sangeeta Dasgupta, stressed in an article in the Indian Express that Umar has deep empathy for the weaker sections of our society. She is anguished that the police did not even ask her about Umar!
- The JNUSU students have been charged under the Sedition Act, which is an act from the colonial era. The British used it against freedom fighters like Lokmanya Tilak. Why has such an act not been scrapped after Independence?
- Why is JNU being called a hub of terrorists? Is it because JNU has been in the forefront of very important struggles of students lately—first, against the scrapping of non-NET fellowship and, second, against the forced suicide of Rohith Vemula? They have also been raising their voices against various measures to stifle institutions of higher learning through the Central Universities Act.
- Why are protestors in Mumbai not even allowed to raise banners during a peace march, while inside court premises, a student, who is supposedly under police protection, is brutally beaten?
- Why is the act of opposing unjust government actions and policies being labelled “anti-national”?
- Why was Rohith called “anti-national” for his role as a Dalit activist? Is raising the issue of caste discrimination in institutions of higher learning and the injustice of the unequal caste system in India anti-national? Is drawing attention to the lack of access to education, landlessness, poverty and violence faced by Dalits and adivasis anti-national?
- Why was Rohith’s mother picked up by police? Should she not even be allowed to stand on a candlelight protest for her son?!?!?
- The students are expected to stay out of politics and focus only on their studies. But then why are students given right to vote when they turn 18? Does it mean that students are expected to use their right to vote without thinking?!
- And here are further questions begging for answers:
- Most senior lawyers of the country have said that the charge of sedition does not apply to the JNU case, yet no bail was granted for days. But, “lawyers” who beat Kanhaiya in court got bail within a few hours. What kind of justice is this?
- Police cannot even protect those in their custody. How can people expect protection by the police? Or is it meant only for a select few?
- Has it become a trend to call the youth, who are raising their voices against the authorities or raising fair and just demands, anti-national, terrorist, Naxals, and Maoists?
Admiral Ramdas further says, “The real tragedy to me lies in the fact that this entire exercise of raising the alarm on foreign funded, possibly terrorist and seditious activities, has been orchestrated in order to demand the shutting down and ‘sanitising’ such a prestigious institution. One is forced to conclude that this smacks of a ‘false flag exercise’. And this is serious. By all means investigate the matter; allow the university officials to handle the students with appropriate disciplinary action. But great discretion and caution must be exercised before calling in the police; and worse, to make serious charges of sedition. It is imperative that we must preserve our democratic spaces and the freedom, indeed the right, to question, to dissent and to debate – especially in our institutions of higher learning.”
All the above, we are sure, will make you think and go deeper into subjects under intense discussion amongst us, and reconsider some of the views you have formed. The attacks on our rights, irrespective of who makes them, can be defended only by us. We, the students, have to come together to defend our right to think critically, our right to question authority and disagree with it, our right to hold and express views. These rights are precious for our studies, for us as citizens of the country and for the development of our society and we should safeguard them!