Shrinking Space in JNU: A Study of Dalits

 

Jadumani Mahanand

jadumanillionA University is supposed to be a centre of learning, which would allow critical thinking with experiments, innovations, discoveries, and an open space for debate, discussion, dialogue and criticism. University is not only a place to develop knowledge or to have intellectual persuasion but to revolutionize the conservative socio, economic and politics to build an egalitarian, enlightend, inclusive society.Is it the case in Indian universities? What are the differences in Brahminical politics between the Indian village and the university? Can somebody do a comparative research on this? In seeking answer to this question in the context of Dalits as constituents and recipients let us investigate the limited space in the university, where Dalits students are fighting and how after the tragic murder of Rohith Vemula, the university space has been shrinking particularly, underthe BJP government, in JNU.

Sheetal Sathe in her song sings "Hum padte hai toh jatiwadi khoon kholta phir unke munh se jatiwadi manu bolta"(when we Dalits study and revolt against caste, then Manu speaks from their (Casteist) mouth -roughly translated by me). Dalits take up education to revolt against caste, Brahminism, patriarchy and capitalism. But the moment the Dalits start speaking against them, they are ghettoized to their "immediate narrow identity", but if it is spoken by the progressive and upper castes, it is often called as highly broadminded, visionary and universal. Ambedkarite and Bahujan student organizations like BAPSA and UDSF cannot erase their memory, when they were leading the Justice for Rohith Vemula struggle, the discomfort they encountered in the left is well experienced. Still the president of JNUSU says Rohith is my ideal! In the last two decades, the existence of UDSF in JNU could not create political vibrancy (not electoral), because it was hijacked by the left, a leading newspaper The Hindu reported that "UDSF is not anti-Left, though their approach to justice is different."1 This is called banality of progressiveness.

Meanwhile, the Hindutva students' group ABVP clearly plays Hindutva politics, which is an unambiguous negation of Ambedkarism in all respects. ABVP can appropriate or manipulate Ambedkar and accommodate Dalit stooges. However, Dalit is an epistemic organic category and only it has the potential to smash Brahminism. Educational autonomy has been shrinking in the two years of Modi government - all academic posts are controlled by RSS/BJP, fellowships and scholarships have been stopped time and again, many 'new' departments have opened up and things like Yoga are being made compulsory to all. Education is being Sanskritized and Hinduized.

After the 'killing' of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit revolution has been pointing out and questioning Brahminical prejudice at every level. The sacrosanct image of the University has been exposed as a modern Agrahara2. This was followed by the 9th February incident in JNU based on which the BJP imposed surveillance and fear without any substance (fractured video).The left unity then geared up with the aim of saving JNU from being defamed and the lecture series on Nationalism, the arrests of Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and the detention of a few left students created yet another chapter in JNU. In other words, it had created intellectual sophistication without social justice -Rohith Vemula was rarely visible although Gopal Guru spoke on Bahiskhrit Bharat.On the other hand, even the JNUTA could not influencethe JNU Administration. The 'Save JNU' campaign may have been relevant to democratic decency and academic freedom, but remained ambiguous. People like Amita Singh could make vulgar allegations that Dalits and Muslims were anti-nationals and yet move about freely.

Today, all the academic appointments involve BJP's foot soldiers, who have no academic credentials3. Any activities like seminars, public talks, rallies, public meetings or posters by the students and faculty, are being targeted. Furthermore, if anyone'squestions are critical of Hinduism, poverty or patriarchy, they are branded as anti-national or Naxals. The public space is no longer public - it is being Hinduized (terrorized). The world famous post-dinner talks at JNU are now being monitored4. The public activities that happen here are recorded and screened before BJP's administrators.This means that one is compelled to not speak against Hinduism – otherwise, they would be suspended or victimized in many ways5. In Deshbandhu College of Delhi University, ABVP disrupted a seminar on Annihilation of Caste6. To put it bluntly, academic freedom is under siege. The university as an open public space for learning, the academic freedom of seeking knowledge and critical engagement are being damaged by the ruling BJP, in a process of marginalizing academic qualifications.

Recently, BAPSA (Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association) had organized a documentary screening on Caste on the Menu Card with the permission of the hostel in-charge. Yet, some Hindutva elementsand security personnel indulged in violence against them.The screening was cancelled and could only be resumed with the effort of non-right organizations and JNUSU. Later, the person from BAPSA who took the permission for the screening was called in for a proctoral inquiry, and other members of the same organization were also investigated. Similarly, the ex-ABVP Dalit students who burned the Manusmriti were called for a similar inquiry. There are many such stories. In the history of Dalit politics, rejection of Hindu-Brahminical texts has been essentia lin activism -in 1927, Babasaheb Ambedkar burnt the sacred Hindu text Manusmriti publicly, and it remains a memorable day for Dalits to carry forward the legacy. In fact, Dalit engagement with Indian society is a fundamental rejection of Hinduism, which is a revolutionary step as far as democracy is concerned. Today, this is being curbed.

The hostels in JNU are also facing serious problems – a circular has been issued recently to close Mahanadi hostel, where married couples and PDFs generally stay. Many shops are being shut down – particularly the ones that are open 24x7 or till 11 pm. Now, a letter has been circulated to shut down Ganga dhaba.It is predictable that there will be many more circulars – maybe even one that will say that women should not study but remain housewives, as said by Mohan Bhagwat7  . To be empirically fair, in all the State Universities in India, girl students are not allowed to go outside after 7 pm.

Danger to Democracy

In JNU, the tendency of Right and Left politics is to suppress and hijack 'autonomous Dalit voices'. In JNUSU elections or any poster or leaflet, a Dalit organization's name never features in their criticism, since the politics of such organizations is based on the Dalit question. Instead, by doing politics on Dalits, they are able to create some political stooges as representatives. Similarly, there are a few faculty members appointed in big posts, the same way as in the remaining student organizations.

Who is the real enemy of Hinduism? Throughout history, Dalit politics has been fighting against Brahminism, patriarchy and caste-capitalism in India. Dalit politics grows as it criticizes Brahminism (Brahminism is present in Left and Congress as well) while Hindutva directly takes forward the legacy of Brahminism. Dalit politics is not merely electoral and is an emancipatory critical discourse against structural oppression of Brahminism. The point I am making is that Dalit politics on the campus directly speaks about uprooting of Hinduism and the Annihilation of Caste. However, the other progressives speak of annihilation of caste merely for symbolism, while the practice of casteism remains visible in the non-Dalit Bahujan student organizations - they can only be inclusive when election comes!

Whenever Hindutva captures power, Dalits face severe and continuous threats, and the last two years of BJP rule has been a clear example of this. However, caste-violence on Dalits has a long history. When university spaces come under Hindutva control,  the oppressed communities, religious minorities like Muslims and Christians and women, face multiple levels of threats, violence and restriction. The circulars and rules that are being issued are a direct indication of the Hinduization of universities and education. We have seen through the Dalit protest in Gujarat - where RSS/BJP have been ruling for more than a decade –how the condition of Dalits is far worse and caste atrocities and violence on them by Hindu Bhakts (Cow Bhakts) terrorists is well known. Similarly, with the BJP government coming to power at the centre, there have been restrictions and fund cuts in education in general and for universities in particular. JNU is an example if this. Gradually, the students, research scholars, faculties, communities and public shops/places ont he campus and their various activities are facing the risk of being controlled and stepped upon...!

~

Notes

1. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/dalits-and-higher-education-dalit-activism-is-now-a-reality-across-campuses-in-india/article8141785.ece

2. N. Sukumar see University as Modern Agrahara in Tehelka, 2016-01-30 Issue 5 volume

3. http://thewire.in/58905/saying-no-cronyism-pratap-bhanu-mehtas-letter-resignation-nmml/

 4. The programme proceeding will be recorded. The JNU security will be deployed at the appropriate places for giving protection to students of the university against any untoward incident. The organizer will have to ensure that all the participants should give details that should include name. The institution they belong to, their mobile number, and email address. The JNU security should empowered to check the identity cards of all the participants. The organizer is required to provide the list of participants with details in DoS office after the completion of the programme. Tapti Hostel, 10-08-2016 Public Meeting on "Mandal and State of Social Justice Movement in today's context"

5. http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/prof-who-criticised-modi-irani-jailed-over-lord-rama-comments/story-05PbrJzx2PBwYNzHryARHI.html

 6. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/chant-bharat-mata-ki-jai-says-abvp-at-ambedkar-seminar-in-du-college-2950809/

 7. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/video/rss-chief-mohan-bhagwat-on-man-woman-relationship/1/241012.html

~~~

 

Jadumani Mahanand is a Ph.D research scholar in JNU.

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