They are using JNU to polarise people


JNU students’ union vice president Shehla Rashid (right) with union president Kanhaiya Kumar at the university campus in New Delhi on March 7, 2016.

Interview with Shehla Rashid, a JNU alumna.

Shehla Rashid, an alumna of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), who rose from being a vocal student activist to a leader of the Shah Faesal-led Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM), explains to Frontline why she feels the university is a handy target for the Central government. Excerpts from the interview:

Why is there such an obsession in a section of the Union government and the media with putting JNU under scrutiny time and again?

They are using JNU as a ploy to delegitimise people’s movements. JNU does not identify itself with the ideals of political parties as much as it identifies itself with people’s movements. Be it the anti-dam protests of the Narmada Bachao Andolan or protests against the Kashmir situation or the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, JNU students have lent their support to these movements and contributed to fact-finding reports.

In contrast to the national media’s tendency to focus on a handful of cities, we have gone to the hinterland to give voice to the most marginalised communities. The Bhagana anti-rape protests are a case in point. It was in a way more radical than the Nirbhaya protests of 2012 since the families of the gang-rape survivors were themselves protesting. But the national media did not give them adequate coverage because the protesters were landless Dalits. JNU students were there day in and day out; we camped with them at Jantar Mantar. So the whole idea behind orchestrating attacks on the university is to delegitimise people’s movement.

The narrative being built on social media platforms by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) sympathisers is that the proponents of one ideological leaning do not give fair operating space to people with differing viewpoints. Your comments.

The perception of JNU as an exclusively communist territory is flawed and motivated. JNU is a progressive space where you have complete freedom of expression, and that is manifest in the emergence of all sorts of political formations there, from the Far Left to the Far Right, from free thinkers to LGBT and Dalit groups. There are around 27 Left factions in JNU and they all disagree with one another. After Singur, [protests against the Tata Nano project in West Bengal in 2008] the Students Federation of India [SFI] could not win elections in JNU for the next 10 years. The Left protested against the Left. Karl Marx is not criticised so brutally anywhere else in the country as he is in JNU. If you have to learn criticism of Karl Marx, you have to come to JNU. There is a new political formation that has come up in JNU over the years. It is called BAPSA, a conglomeration of Dalit-Bahujan groups. They are a bitter critic of the Left but no one has ever bothered them. How are they operating freely?

It is evident that the ABVP is trying to widen its influence and emphasise its ideology within JNU. How has this impacted or is beginning to impact the identity and ethos of the university?

If we look at the voting trends in university elections over the years, the ABVP has not been a marginal force ever—it has been polling between 600 and 1,000 votes. But what is new is that it now has protection to engage in vandalism and throttle opposing viewpoint. JNU always had a culture of organising political discussions and protests. But this had been done democratically. If I don’t like what you are saying, I would probably hold a public meeting right outside your public meeting, or I would probably go to your public meeting and ask questions or raise a placard to voice my disagreement. We had never imagined politics in this way [the ABVP way] where you are in disagreement with someone else and you manhandle that person.

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