There is no doubt that Jawaharlal Nehru University is considered one of the best institutions for higher studies in the country. This can be reflected with the JNU receiving the Best University Award in 2017 from the President of India and being ranked sixth by the National Institutional Ranking Framework ranking and second among all Indian universities in 2018
However, throughout recent history, JNU has been more in the news due to its political activities instead of educational and academic accomplishments. The JNU campus is known to be infused with an intense political life with social and national issues are debated fiercely during formal and informal gatherings.
Let us look into the history of JNU and how do the dynamics of education and politics thrive on the campuses of JNU.
History of JNU
An act of Parliament established Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1969. The proposal was the formation of JNU was tabled in the Rajya Sabha in 1965 by then Education Minister, M.C. Chagla. During the tabling and passing of the JNU Bill, it was decided that JNU will not function as just another university and new faculties should be created, while ensuring keeping noble ideas in mind and proving accessible education to students from every section of the society.
Education at JNU
Almost after 50 years post its incorporation, JNU is considered as one of the best and often referred to as a premier institution for higher education in India. JNU has being granted the status of an autonomous university by the UGC and offers courses in Arts and Aesthetics, Biotechnology, Computational and Integrative Sciences, Computer and System Sciences, Engineering, Environmental Sciences, International Studies, Language Literature, Life Sciences, Management and Entrepreneurship, Physical Sciences, Sanskrit and Indic Studies, and Social Sciences. JNU also has special studies in Law and Governance, Disaster Research, E-Learning, Molecular, Nanoscience, National Security Studies, and Study of North East India.
Politics at JNU
Any reference to the JNU is incomplete without discussing the politics on the JNU Campus. The JNU student politics has traditionally being left-centred, though right-wing student groups have entered and taken centre stage in JNU’s campus politics.
The Student Union election in the JNU is preceded by weeks of meetings and debates, keeping everyone on the campus involved. However, in the recent times, the campus politics of JNU has been under the spotlight for all the wrong reason, though student activist maintains that the nature of politics on the JNU campus remains intellectual and is issue-based.
In 2000, two Indian army officers were beaten up agitated students during an Indo-Pak mushaira organised on the JNU campus. It was reported that the army officers raised objections to anti-war poems recited by two Pakistani poets. The army officers disrupted the event and started chanting anti-Pakistan slogans. One of the army officers also pulled out a gun when the audience members requested them to maintain silence.
This led to the security of the event getting involved, and the agitated students ended beating these army officers. Though the Indian Army denied charges, according to reports, the army officers were admitted to the hospital.
Ban on JNUSU
In October 2008, the Supreme Court of India banned the JNUSU and stayed the JNU elections in 2018 for the violation of the Lyngdoh Committee. This ban was lifted in Dec 2011 after multi-party negotiations and a prolonged struggle.
Student Clashes Post Glorification of Mass Killings of CRPF Personnel
In 2010, the JNU Campus was echoed with slogans of “Hindustan Murdabaad, Maovad Zindabaad”. These slogans were chanted during the meetings of the JNU Forum Against War on People which had organised programs to oppose Operation Green Hunt. This was seen as the students celebrating the mass killing of 76 CRPF personnel in the State of Chhattisgarh and led to on-campus clashes between various parties.
Saffronisation of Education
In 2015, the All India Students Association and the JNU’s Student’s Union objected the imposition of Indian culture, as these efforts were seen as an attempt of saffronisation of Indian education. Saffronisation is often referred to as the efforts of right-wing groups to glorify ancient Hindu culture. These proposals were later rolled back following the oppositions from various student groups.
In Dec 2014, the “Rainbow Tree”, which stood as a symbol of LGBTQ rights was vandalised on the JNU Campus. Following this vandalism, the JNU Student’s Union led a march along with gay-rights groups like Dhanak and Anjuman, which was famously referred to as the Rainbow Walk. This march commenced from the Ganga Dhaba to the spot of the Rainbow Tree. The Rainbow March was filled with slogans and songs; the zebra crossing was painted using rainbow colours and trees were wrapped with rainbow coloured ribbons.
This march was undertaken to combat the growing homophobia on the JNU campus and in protest to criticise the 2013 Supreme Court verdict which nullified the Delhi High Court order against Sec 377. The Rainbow tree and the Rainbow walk initiatives aimed towards promoting the individual right to identity and sexual freedom.
In 2016, the JNU Campus was once again echoed with anti-India slogans raised on the JNU Campus. During a cultural event organised by the Democratic Students’ Union against the execution of separatist leader Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru, and for the self-determination right for the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Students chanted anti-India slogans such as “Kashmir ki azadi take jung chalegi, Bharat ki barbadi take jung chalegi”, “Hindustan Murdabaad, Pakistan Zindabad”. The members of ABVP protested against these anti-national slogans raised on the JNU campus and demanded immediate expulsion of the students involved in the organising of the event.
This led to a disciplinary enquiry on the event, and the Delhi Police arrested the event organisers Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Verma on charges of criminal conspiracy and sedition under section 124 of the IPC, which dates back to 1860.
This arrest resulted in a nation-wide political controversy, with leaders of the opposition parties expressing their support and solidarity with the protesting students. Academics and JNU alumni released statements in favour of the students.
Education and politics go hand-in-hand on the JNU Campus. The student bodies on the JNU campus are vocal regarding their views and opinion of cultural and political issues. However, JNU has managed to maintain its academic rankings and remain one of the premier institutes for higher education in India. The amalgamation of education and politics on the JNU campus can be reflected in its alumni which include notable Political figures such as Amitabh Kant (CEO of the Niti Aayog), Ajit Seth (Cabinet Secretary of India), Harun Rashid Khan (Former Deputy governor of the RBI), Amitabh Rajan (Former Home Secretary of Maharashtra), Nirmala Sitaraman (The First Female Defence Minister of India), Ashok Tanwar (Former President of the Indian Youth Congress), Sitaram Yechury (General Secretary of CPI-Marxist).
Nonetheless, the dynamics of education and politics at the JNU is also a reflection of the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the students in the country. Students can raise their voice and issues, no matter how controversial they might be, without any restriction and censorship while remaining under the purview of the law.