How JNU Turns Us Into Better Citizens

Md. Farijuddin Khan

“A University stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives. If the Universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the Nation and the People.”

-Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru

Imagine a society where human rationality is often marginalized by sentiments. Imagine a country comprises of various ethnic and religious denominations where one’s patriotism is being tested by mere symbolism rather than substantive gestures and collective ethos of patriotism. One of the eminent academics in India, who was also a former member of Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), in one of his speeches, pointed out two inherent problems of people who are generally antagonistic to rationalism. They are: first, they lack sense of humor; second, they are aversed to intelligent discussion and dialogue.

Taking a cue from the speaker, I would like to substantiate on the importance of a University before I answer the question as to why we are proud of being JNUites. The answer lies in the above quote of the first Prime Minister of India. To Nehru, a University is a sacred institution to nurture critical thinking. It is to train young minds to think of an inclusive, harmonious and just society. Thus, it is necessary for the state to allow Universities to maintain its autonomy as far as Universities conduct its daily sacred duty of promotion and propagation of reason, discussions and debates in search for truth.

JNU: Where Humanism Triumphs

I have been a student here in the Jawaharlal Nehru University for the past five years. I joined JNU as a Masters student in July 2010. Honestly, before I joined, I had no idea about the University. Only I knew was that it was a good University. Five complete years have passed, things have changed much. But the ideal foundation on which JNU stands has not changed or, simply, it has refused to budge. The ideal is the idea of a University which focuses on training students and research scholars to think beyond self through application of a critical reasoning mind. This ‘beyond self’ is very important not only because it pushes us towards understanding the larger goal and problems of lives, but also it is a rebellious idea which is generally not taught at home.

Education

In Jawaharlal Nehru University, we are not only taught to read basic texts, do assignments, present paper at conferences, how to write a good dissertation and thesis, etc. We are also taught to open our eyes and brains to the outside world beyond our classrooms, beyond our library and study rooms to ascertain and make an independent analysis to understand various nuances of the problems. It teaches us to listen to arguments of the other side no matter how much animosity and anger it causes within us.

Besides producing eminent politicians across political parties, JNU is credited for producing eminent scientists, journalists, lawyers, and bureaucrats and, of course, teachers and academic professionals. The instrumentalist approach to education that it should produce students capable of employing in the job-market exists among students, perhaps in larger number, in JNU. In fact, JNU has been one of the hubs in Delhi known for producing IAS/IPS/IFS and other high ranking bureaucrats for long time. The current Foreign Secretary of India did his Ph.D. from JNU. Similar is the case of the incumbent Secretary of NITI Aayog. However, the atmosphere in the campus neither gives patronage to these successful civil servants nor it restricts them from pursuing their goals effectively.

Rather, an ecology of mutual understanding has been built which enables the proponents of the intrinsic values of education to gel well to make the campus a dynamic and inclusive one. Unlike the job-oriented approach of instrumentalist education (read bureaucrat making machine), the intrinsic approach of education seeks education as an end to itself. The approach enables creative ideas to flourish which questions anything that defies rationalism, have debates and dialogue in the search for truth. Thus, the proponents do not look for a safer option to go ahead in life; instead follow one’s inner conscience and instinct to pursue a suitable career option that brings happiness.

Freedom and Justice

It gives me immense pride to realize the significance of a University which stresses on the need to uphold the equality of opportunity in pursuing higher education. The biggest testimony of such belief is the institutionalization of the idea that extremely underprivileged (socio-economic) students have to be provided equal opportunity to pursue higher education. This is fulfilled by giving certain ‘deprivation points’ to those students who hails from the most deprived regions in the country. It is an achievement fought by students for students. Today, the institution can boast of having a relatively more egalitarian campus where students from every nook and corner of India could sit together over a cup of tea/coffee in dhabas. Teachers and students can freely exchange their ideas and problems with ease, women and men colleagues can sit and walk together in classrooms, in hostel T.V. rooms, hostel messes, libraries, dhabas, etc. They can share everything comfortably without fear of being harassed or scolded!

This is the University where many students believe that politics and activism are as much an important part of life as study and getting a job is. What we fight for? We fight for space – a space, at least inside the University, where students can freely discuss about the nature of state, dynamics of national interest, nationalism, securitization of national security, reservation, women‘s freedom, relevance of draconian laws such as the Armed Forces Special Power Acts (AFSPA) in a democracy, meaning and relevance of sedition. Let there be discussions of all sorts. Let a view be countered by a stronger alternative view(s). We fight for an autonomy to even question authority if need be within and outside. We fight for our freedom to engage with our friends on the other side of the wall to make them convince or get convinced in the process. This is what JNU stands for. Yes, we fight for marks, for jobs, for a place in a reputed company. But the fight for these will be banal if we do not fight for our liberty to pursue these goals freely and voluntarily. Fighting for self should not block our senses from the sufferings for others.

This is what JNU stands for. This is what we have been inculcated through our liberal-democratic education. If upholding the principles of equality, justice, liberty, egalitarianism inside the campus would mean pursuing activities isolated from our education; JNUites would happily wear as a badge of honor. If rationality and contestation of ideas are to be suppressed, I would consider it as an act of treason to the very idea of India that the framers of the Constitution of India espoused.

Disclaimer: Neither I am a communist nor I belong to any political organisation. The opinion expressed is strictly mine.

*The writer is currently a Doctoral Candidate in the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be reached at [email protected]