FEBRUARY 19, 2016
This is a statement by nearly over three hundred and fifty academics based in the UK
We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with the students, faculty, and staff of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). We condemn the BJP government-sanctioned police action in the JNU campus and the illegal detention of the JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar. We strongly condemn the manner in which political dissent is being stifled, reducing academic spaces to fortresses. We also condemn the widespread witch-hunt of left-wing students and student groups that this police action has unleashed.
These recent acts are representative of the larger trend that we have been observing – the imposition of an authoritarian and regressive agenda in institutions of higher learning from Films and Television Institute [FTII], Hyderabad Central University [HCU] to Jawaharlal Nehru University [JNU]. From the institutional murder of HCU student, Rohith Vemula, and the suppression of student protests at FTII to the illegal detention of the student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar and pervasive police presence at JNU, there has been a constant non- observance and disregard of administrative and legal norms as well as a gross infringement of the democratic rights of the student community. These actions are embedded in a deeply chauvinistic cultural nationalism, which espouses a casteist and Brahmanical, homophobic, and patriarchal worldview.
We strongly believe that student politics is being targeted currently by giving a new lease of life to a sedition law that was a draconian tool in the hands of the colonial state and has no place in a democracy. It is our democratic right to dissent, disagree, organise and struggle against state, institutions or policies that transgress and suppress democratic and egalitarian values. Expression of dissent cannot and should not be equated with being ‘anti-national’ (or any other such constructed category) and is definitely not punishable under law especially if it is non-violent.
Disguising targeted assault on oppositional student groups/political movements within the narrative binaries of nationalism/anti nationalism only reflects how vulnerable the BJP government feels in its own ability to provide accountable governance.
We also believe that institutions of higher learning should be publicly funded spaces for political engagement, debates, and critical discussions – a legacy campuses (be it JNU, DU, or FTII) have embodied. As they always have, university spaces should subsidise costs of education for students, irrespective of the political disposition of the students. A rather disturbing feature of the narratives around this issue has been the construction and furthering of an artificial dichotomy between academics and politics that suggests that being ‘political’ is an aberration. This would certainly appear to be the case, if seen through the neoliberal lens of perceiving education as an industry that produces ‘semester bred’ automated ‘disciplined’ individuals who are mere consumers.
However, as the nonviolent expressions of dissent by students in JNU clearly demonstrate, contrary to this neo liberal view of academia,we believe that ‘personal is political’ and there is no sphere that is devoid of politics.We believe that good academic work necessarily involves a critical engagement with society and its power inequities and in that sense is always politically engaged. This engagement thrives in the democratic space of the university where many dissenting views can be heard and debated. The vilification of JNU as a space of ‘anti-national’ politics is being carried out by ABVP and BJP in order to attack and break this democratic spirit of academic and political life in Indian universities.
As teachers, students, scholars, and academics from the UK, who are keenly observing the developments unfolding in JNU, we express our solidarity with the students, faculty and staff of JNU as they non-violently resist this infringement on their rights. We urge the Vice Chancellor of JNU to uphold the institutional autonomy and the democratic rights of the student community. We also urge the government of India to stop encroaching on our rights as citizens, students, activists, political and politicised subjects.