I Am a Student of JNU, I Am NOT a Jihadi John
Why impose one voice on all of JNU, wonders a JNU student.
I am a student of JNU. I am not a political activist. Many like me, on this campus, are also not active in student politics. But, many like me marched around the campus, along with faculty members, against the arrest of the president of the JNUSU.
If Twitter trends are to be believed, I, and many others like me, am an anti-national traitor, a blot on Indian democracy, taxpayer’s burden who spends her time inciting violent uprisings.
I, apparently, do all this strenuous sounding stuff using the most violent of all weapons – thinking, reading and writing.
The Afzal Guru Event and Its Right to Happen
The latest addition to the ‘hurt sentiments’ gallery, is an event held at JNU by a small section of students, which ruffled a few patriotic feathers. It was the during screening of a documentary on the occasion of the death anniversary of Afzal Guru – an occasion observed by the same section every year, much to the chagrin of the ABVP presence on campus.
Any law-abiding citizen will now ask, why to the chagrin of ABVP only? How does this ‘celebration’ of Afzal Guru not rile the entire campus? The answer to that lies in the democratic ethos of the campus – the same ethos by which there sits today an ABVP elected representative on the JNUSU Central Panel, the same ethos by which walls in JNU are painted with quotes and images of Savarkar right next to those of Lenin.
As a student of JNU, you learn that multiple hues exist in the political spectrum. You may not like them, you may not agree with them, you may not even understand them – but you accept their right to exist. Hence, most political organisations on the JNU campus, even though they do not agree with the event in question, fight every year for its right to happen.
Why Impose One Voice On All of JNU?
What unites these parties together is the commitment to a non-violent campus, to a democratic campus. How then is such a vibrant and heterogeneous community being painted by a single brush, in a single colour?
It’s an undeniable fact that the students on the JNU campus are some of the brightest minds in the country. JNU alumni can be found across the political spectrum, despite its popular identification as a left bastion. Among these myriad thinking minds, how is one lone voice so easily imposed as the voice of an entire university community? Is the slogan raised by that voice so strong and loud as to break a nation apart? How is it that this naarebaazi becomes anti-national but the slogans celebrating the murderer of the Father of the Nation are not?
Undermining the Larger Students Movement
Over the past three days, social media has spewed venom at the entire student community. I find it amusing (in a very defeated and depressing way) that JNU has become such a threat to the daily existence of every patriot. I love my university but I had no idea it was that relevant. I had no idea that people would know it for its one sloganeer, and not for the endless hours that we pour into research – hard work definitely recognised internationally, but sadly, not nationally.
The student community has also guessed that there is something more sinister at play here. The past few months saw the rise of a number of poignant student movements – #OccupyUGC, PinjraTod, and most recently on the #RohithVemula suicide case. These movements brought together students from across the political spectrum and across prominent campuses in the country, including JNU. They brought into the limelight discussions on scholarships, state responsibility towards education, patriarchy on university campuses and hostels, and the persistence of the casteist attitudes of administrations. These student movements as a collective were laying out valid critiques of certain government policies and had built enough momentum to force the government to concede and respond to these criticisms.
But they were washed away so irresponsibly by a slogan.
Was the slogan really so powerful or was it latched on to simply to ruin this momentum? It is worth noting that none of these student movements made it to regular apolitical drawing rooms, unlike the one slogan that did. That one slogan has led to, and will lead to in the near future, serious repercussions to be borne by the entire student community. The first of these is police deployment, police raids on JNU hostels and the arrest of the JNUSU president (who, incidentally, condemned the same slogans) on charges of sedition.
I Am NOT a Jihadi John
I am a student of JNU. I don’t deny that a fraction of students were callous, not just towards the nation, but more so towards the student community. But neither they, nor the ABVP’s patriotic fervor of anti-nationalism define the students of JNU.
I am not, as social media alleges, a Jihadi John. I am a student who reads and thinks for a profession. If that can be a threat to your idea of a nation, then maybe you need to read and think as well. So instead of tweeting #ShutDownJNU, come have a cup of chai at our dhaba and see for yourself what this anti-national university that opens its doors to everybody is all about.
(Preeti Gulati is currently pursuing an MPhil in Ancient History from the Center for Historical Studies, JNU.)
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