Bikramaditya K. Choudhary, Secretary, JNUTA

‘JNU administration making deplorable statements’

Print edition : March 18, 2016

Bikramaditya Choudhary. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Interview with Bikramaditya K. Choudhary, Secretary, JNUTA.

The teaching community in Jawaharlal Nehru University has firmly stood behind the students every step of the present struggle. Dr Bikramaditya K. Choudhary, Assistant Professor, Centre for the Study of Regional Development in the School of Social Sciences at JNU, and secretary of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers’ Association (JNUTA), spoke to Frontline on the position taken by the teachers in the wake of the February 9 incident. He is an alumnus of JNU and taught in Banaras Hindu University for eight years before he joined JNU in 2013. Excerpts:

Can you take us through the events that transpired since February 9 and how the Vice-Chancellor and the teachers dealt with them?

Before I answer your question, let me reiterate that the JNUTA condemns unconstitutional and unlawful acts. Further, the JNUTA reiterates its position that if anyone has committed any offence against the law of the land, he/she must be identified and punished as per the established procedure of law.

Academic and cultural programmes are conducted by students on a regular basis in JNU. Some are also attended or addressed by some faculty at times. We were not particularly aware of the cultural programme of February 9. It was only on February 11 we came to know that there was a smear campaign against JNU in the media. That was the first time it came to our notice that JNU was being branded anti-national owing to sloganeering on February 9. It came to light that there was a scuffle between students’ organisations. We were informed that the police were already on the campus, even on February 9. On February 11, we saw police vehicles in large numbers. In an informal talk with university officials, we were told about an unnamed FIR. Unnamed FIRs are dangerous as anybody can be named on that list and harassed—you, me or anybody.

On the afternoon of February 12, we heard that the JNUSU president had been picked up. Following an emergency JNUTA meeting, we issued the first press brief condemning the police crackdown and unequivocally disassociating ourselves from any unconstitutional or unlawful activity.

Does JNU not have internal mechanisms to deal with students’ issues before an external agency can be called in?

JNU has a robust internal mechanism to deal with issues of indiscipline. In this case, there was a subversion of all internal mechanisms. In case of an issue, the security [department] is supposed to submit a report to the Proctorial Committee. Unfortunately, it did not happen in this case. Even when the police were granted permission to enter the campus, the administration did not consult the Inter-Hall Administration (IHA) constituted by the dean of students, provosts and wardens. They did not consult the proctor’s office, the chief proctor or any other proctors; neither did they consult the deans or rectors. It was only on the day after Kanhaiya was picked up that a meeting of deans and chairpersons was called to endorse it.

On February 9, after the programme, an FIR was lodged in the Vasant Kunj police station against some students by some other students. The FIR says that these students were present there and they shouted certain slogans; there was a scuffle between two groups and at 8:30 p.m. everybody dispersed peacefully and no further law and order problem resulted from it. There seems to be no mention of a sedition charge in the FIR lodged on February 9.

Before the programme, some students approached the JNU administration to say that the programme should not be allowed. The university administration sent an SMS to the security, not to the organisers even though their mobile numbers were given in the permission letter. The students held some programme and this might be an issue of indiscipline and should have been dealt with within the institutional framework of JNU. But rather than raising it as such, the university slept in peace on February 9, 10 and 11 till we saw in the media that a Member of Parliament had complained to the police and called the programme an act of sedition. The police, rather than investigate the FIR of February 9, chose to convert the complaint into an FIR against unknown persons. In less than six hours, on February 11 night, the police came seeking the permission of the JNU administration; they had a list of students contrary to their own report. What is dismaying in this entire case is that the administration rather than taking action on its own, for well over two days did not act and suddenly subverted all internal institutional structures to facilitate the crackdown. On February 11 night, JNU security gives a “confidential” report to the administration. The report of the JNU security and the FIR do not match. The security report, which was submitted after the FIR was lodged, seems camouflaged and unacceptable.

What has been the Vice-Chancellor’s position?

We have been successively and regularly meeting the V.C. with specifically three demands: the police should not enter the campus, reinstate the internal institutional mechanism, and ensure that the administration doesn’t work in a partisan manner. The administration has been giving deplorable statements. When faculty members were attacked in the Patiala House courts, the JNU administration chose to condemn “the alleged” attack. There is a loss of faith between the JNU community and the administration.

Your views on the media witch-hunt.

The media have a role to protect individual civil liberty against state crackdown. We know the media by the likes of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and not the current incumbents who only claim to be independent. The media ask tough questions from the government, it does not indulge in jingoism and rabble-rousing.

What are the JNUTA’s demands?

The JNUTA demands the withdrawal of charges based on a frivolous and concocted video. It demands an impartial and credible investigation to establish unlawful activities. Furthermore, if there was any real security threat, one did not need the incident to catch hold of it. Our security agencies, intelligence or police are not so naive so as to depend on a cultural programme to catch somebody involved in an unlawful act .

How do you view the presence of intelligence agencies on campuses?

In India, no campus is without an intelligence presence. The local intelligence units keep track of and profile everybody who visits campuses. As students, everyone knows who are from the intelligence. I am not against it, if they think they should be there then why not. University is a free campus and we are not involved in any activity that the local intelligence units should not know. The NHRC [National Human Rights Commission] report says the attack on Kanhaiya on the court premises was pre-planned. So where was the intelligence? Did the police not know? He was attacked not once but twice. The honourable Supreme Court-appointed team was also attacked. If we set forth a trend of defining the law by the mob, we are moving in a dangerous direction. Our colleagues were attacked, harassed physically and sexually and beaten up in the Patiala House courts. Why is there no case by the women’s commission? What kind of civil society do we have that we do not get disturbed by this? The police should file an FIR as it happened in their presence.

Will there be cases filed to counter the charges levied on JNU?

We have asked the V.C. and the administration to file a case against unnamed persons who resorted to violence against the faculty. Our GBM [general body meeting] resolved to ask the administration to file a second case against [TV] channels that have launched a smear campaign against JNU. It was suggested that Rs.500 crore should be asked from the channels as the loss done to JNU is irreparable. It has become a trend to threaten anybody opposed to the government of the day by calling them anti-national. This is not the first instance, it happened in IIT Madras, UOH [University of Hyderabad], where the uncomfortable viewpoints were termed anti-national. When the performance of a government is poor, it creates enemies by arousing passions. People have been killed owing to such aroused passions: Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar. The Patiala House courts case is another example of aroused passions. India is a country of 120 billion people and it is strong. How the nation-state gets threatened with a few criticisms here and there? The Prime Minister and many of our Ministers and MPs are from political science background, so they must have read Voltaire. Voltaire says: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

What is the status of the inquiry committee set up by JNU to look into the matter?

We want the inquiry committee reconstituted as this one is fed on the false report of the security. The entire process is orchestrated. Even when convicted in jail, a person is allowed to study and appear for the examination. Why have these students been suspended from academic activities even before an inquiry can take place? This move reeks of a collusion between the JNU administration and outside agencies. The authenticity of the video evidence is yet to be established through a forensic examination. The reliance based on hearsay on a video that surfaced on February 10 is dangerous and needs to be authenticated through forensic test. The JNUTA suggests an expansion of the committee to include a person from the equal opportunity cell and a woman to investigate women implicated in the report.

Do you see a pattern in the government going after higher educational institutions in the country today?

We would like to urge the government to introspect on the kind of international disrepute we are inviting to our educational institutions. Do we want to preserve and nurture independent thought or do we want our educational institutions to run as the government’s propaganda machinery for alternate five-year terms?