It would seem to the lay public, that a handful of students and teachers, are standing up against the RSS run administration. It is the constantly illegal amendment of the statutes of JNU, by the current vice chancellor, professor Jagadesh Kumar, which is causing daily anxiety and consternation. The protests against his Machiavellian policies have been going on for two years now. The reason is simple: JNU was a laboratory for learning, and students and teachers have a long history of treating one another as citizens of a free country. The alumni have dispersed to follow the traditions of scholarship both in our own country, as well as abroad.
The might of the JNU rests in its happy memories. Since February 2016, there has been a change in the way the institution is run. Immediately noticeable to the general public are the strikes, the demonstrations and the dharnas, which have continued almost with out stop. Exhausted by this long and continuous battle, JNU scholars spent the vacations catching up on their reading and writing, and returned to even more draconian circulars. These suggested that flamboyant and coercive measures were in place to curtail academic freedom on campus and had been passed by the AC and EC. The minutes of each, according to reports of teachers who had attended these meetings as deans and chairpersons, did not approximate what had actually happened in these meetings.
The problem with truth is that it cannot be hidden… it always reveals itself. Writing a new history, or amending the statutes is a very visible process.
Take for instance the question of class room attendance in MA. The students come from hinterland universities, and have worked hard to enter an institution which received A++ from the NAAC in November 2017. The labour that goes into MA teaching rests essentially in keeping young adults alert, occupied and interested. Students read before coming to class, are encouraged to be vocal and be presenters of papers on a continuous bases. While heads are not counted, the energy that is always swirling in the class room is the best reward for a teacher. The students who do not come to class are handled in Centre for the Study of Social Systems in extra classes, which are taught by doctoral students, who are already eligible to be teachers themselves in the 77 affiliated colleges of Delhi University. Many of these doctoral candidates are hired by DU colleges, while writing their dissertations. Imagine, getting up in the morning at catching the 7 am special and teaching in DU, and returning by the 3.30 pm special to write the dissertation and prepare for the next day’s lectures! Impossible to sign in at the office of the school, which opens around 10 am. The classes held by the teaching assistants are so interesting, because of group activities and discussions, that the students who regularly attend the primary classes, slotted on the time table, also turn up for Remedial classes, as they are called. Peer group support is huge, and over two years, those who felt they were not included in the regular classroom, become stars merely by dint of hard work.
Phd students are the hardest working of the JNU community of scholars, spending grueling summers and freezing winters on campus, which has austere provisions and water problems, as like the rest of Delhi, it is dependent on water from Haryana. The life of the Phd student is not at all easy, and while much time is spent collecting data, analysing and writing up the data is also extremely hard work. Signing in every morning at the office, to prove one’s presence is virtually to undercut the efforts every doctoral candidate makes to prove that his/her work is original contribution to the discipline. The scholar is most likely in the archives, or in the field, or laboratory collecting data. During the digital age, it seem archaic to have to prove one’s presence physically. If the scholar is in touch with the supervisor, there is ample belief that he or she is up to date with work.
The relationship is based on mutual trust, and the colleagues in any given centre in JNU provide collective support to research scholars regardless of the topic of research. Seminars are held annually to compare progress of individual scholars, and every six months, the chairperson receives a report from the Phd scholars before registration forms are signed. The demand by the VC that the viva voce in consultation with experts be neturalised and skype vivas in the presence of the dean be the norm is also quaint. The statistic of vivas is so large, that the dean would never be able to be present in all, and delegation would be necessary.
Skype vivas in JNU campus where the internet is continuously dysfunctional or hacked, as every faculty member will inform you, is another joke. Since the Phd dissertations are evaluated by examiners from all the central universities in India, the alarming question of whether small towns have non stop electricity and internet access in also important. What is becoming very clear to JNU students and teachers is that the VC, who receives his orders from RSS office, Jhandewalan is set on destroying a 50-year-old legacy. As no dialogue is possible with RSS functionaries, who do not believe in the legacies of institutions which have been safeguarded by statutes, the damage day by day causes incalculable mental suffering to both young and old.
Privatisation of education as ushered in by the Congress was a death knell, but the erosion of JNU by RSS think tank (because it had a Nehruvian legacy as an institution, with Marxist intellectuals in some centres) is destroying the optimism that rural youth had that the “intelligentsia of the people” were respected and protected in JNU.
(The writer is professor of Sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)