JNU crisis and its meta-narrative

Radhika Jagtap

Radhika JagtapRadhika is pursuing her PhD in international Law at School of International Legal Studies, JNU

The country is witnessing a student movement like never before in its history. From the events of 9th February 2016 to the arrest of the JNUSU president, a lot has been spoken, written and commented about the whole issue and still continuing. While overenthusiastic desh-bhakts cannot stop playing the trumpets in dignity of “Mother India”, every JNUite is practically exhausted fighting all sorts of abuses coming from the non-JNU folks. Even when the firsthand witness accounts of what exactly happened that evening are out in the social media, they are not there as mightily as the “shutJNU” hashtags are. Logical reasoning against the “Bharat Mata” discourse is becoming a David v. Goliath situation.

This piece comes as a result of great frustration and the need to let out all that cannot be updated in a facebook comment. Like any JNUite committed to its institution’s pride left no stone upturned in sharing and posting various updates and opinions on the social media and that, I believe , is the least we can do in times where sabotaging is happening everywhere. But what each one of us is being subjected to is also social media abuse and lectures on patriotism by various people. And trying to explain them the whole affair, with the larger political angle, is taking a toll on our sanities.

In my very personal case, it is even more difficult because I belong to Gujarat and most people in the campus assume I am a right wing nationalist for obvious reasons. Most of the times on being introduced to someone new, I have to give clarifications about my political views first and then anything else. Just imagine the complex battle I have to fight after putting a single “SaveJNU” update.

Media trials have already given out its verdict and it has not only maligned the University’s reputation, but has presented a distorted picture of all that JNU is about- from its dhaba culture to its student movement and politics. From memes mocking JNU as the extension of Pakistan to random politicians calling the female students worse than prostitutes, JNU and JNUites are being socially victimized like never before. Its not that all of a sudden the Indian junta turned patriotic; its not even that people have always hated JNU; a rather sound explanation to it is that the average Indian public has never understood a political culture other than the mainstream. Not many University campuses in the country offer something like what JNU does and even if they do, you don’t get to read about them everyday unless there is something as controversial.

Therefore, the meta-narrative about the culture of JNU is as:

Students here are nocturnal. They smoke up weed, eat non veg, drink and debate on utopian ideas which have no practical relevance. Girl’s here are of easy virtue, very friendly and open.

Professors and teachers propagate counter-productive and revolutionary ideas to the students and union leaders.

Many of students develop “naxalite”, “maoist” sentiments and also jihadi.

Students stop believing in institutions like the State and marriage (yes. hilarious, but yes so are my relatives!).

The present crisis through which the University is going has only extended this above narrative about the campus, why:

Because on the first three days. i.e. 9th February to 11th February, the news channels (Times Now and Zee news, to be precise) constantly played and replayed the video which featured the “Pakistan Zindabad” slogans, which followed by huge number of people applauding Arnab Goswami and Rohit Sardana for doing a marvellous jobs at “nailing shameless JNU leaders.” It felt like people experienced the same satisfaction that a violent mob gets after unleashing on the victim. Yes, this kind of treatment of JNU was no less than a lynching!

So, now, a junta who has never cared to know how campus politics works or what is the Indian student movement all about is all of a sudden exposed to such a picture where students are allegedly degrading Mother India or being yelled at by Goswami, will definitely be carried away! This is how a mob psychology works and this is how grand narratives are formed.

Not exaggerating, but many people (well educated) do not know about JNU and yes it is a fact. Let alone the kind of culture we have. People still rely on hearsay accounts, stereotypes and gossips for being informed.

What they must understand:

First, that there are peoples from various walks of life that come to be a part of JNU. The university, besides an educational institution is a also a platform for various identities, solidarities and opinions to acquire a voice. The beauty of JNU is that it nurtures each one of them, irrespective of political ideology, language and nationality. Hence what point people are missing is that even liberation movements are a part of the larger student movement on the campus. The student community, through the democratically elected union extends solidarity to all the smaller movements that are seeking recognition. So what if there is presence of groups that demand Kashmir’s liberation? So what if they hail someone as their freedom fighter? The student community accommodates them all without crossing any limits whatsoever.

Second, that who raised “bharat ki barbaadi” slogans is still not investigated. So why should JNU take responsibility of a crime no one is sure who committed. I mean, leading legal experts like Soli Sorabjee have also opined that “facts must looked into and in totality of the larger picture’ (his interview with India Today, this morning ).

Third, that arrest was arbitrary and illegal, which nobody outside JNU is ready to highlight vividly.

Fourth, that here in JNU we have a tradition of deconstructing- deconstructing everything that is grand, arbitrary and unconvincing. So what if we are critical of concepts like “State”, “Nationalism” and “Sovereignity”? If academic deliberation on these concepts is wrong, arrest us all who have taen courses, written papers and made presentations in that accordance!

Last, Afzal Guru is not the face of JNU, nor is Yakub Memom a hero for the student community here or anyone else. JNU is for ideas.

The overly active generation of Indian social media must stop educating solely on the basis of mockery. Memes and social media updates help only if there is an element of truth to it. And yes satire is a good way of creating awareness, but for the right causes. The bitter truth is we are an inadequately informed junta! No masala, no interest. No wonder the 2014 loksabha elections drew massive attention from all people, as we all would agree there wasn’t any shortage of entertainment. So the question here is that is it just fine to let entertainment guide us or a critical engagement is also necessary?

Amidst all sort of chaos, one thing has emerged and that is, it is not a mere battle of sedition versus patriotism anymore. It has become now a “battle of world views.” What kind of world we wish to be a part of? One where your view of the world is decided by twitteratis or one where everything is subjected to questioning?