Shehla Rashid Shora, vice-president, JNUSU

‘Politics enriches our education’

Print edition : March 18, 2016

Shehla Rashid Shora. Photo: Kamal Singh/PTI

Interview with Shehla Rashid Shora, vice-president, JNUSU.

The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) vice-president Shehla Rashid Shora has been leading the students’ struggle against what they believe is a witch-hunt of JNU. Shehla Rashid, who comes from Srinagar, is a member of the All India Students’ Association (AISA) and was one of the prominent Left student leaders in the Occupy UGC movement and agitations against Rohith Vemula’s suicide. Excerpts from an interview she gave Frontline:

JNU has been branded the hub of anti-national activities. Your comments?

The attack on JNU was very much expected. We knew they were going to come for JNU and that they were also looking for an excuse. It wasn’t really about the slogans, and it was never about nationalism. The campaign that the right wing ran was to shut down JNU. It is not just an attack on JNU but an all-out offensive against people’s movements. JNU is known as much for its participation in people’s movements as for its academics. Attacking JNU means attacking movements against land grab, against state repression, movements for gender justice and social justice, movements against privatisation. By branding JNU anti-national, the government is suggesting that those who do not succumb to Modi, anyone who does not subscribe to the dominant discourse on nationalism, anyone who raises her voice, will be called anti-nationalist.

What in your view as JNUSU vice-president are the principles that JNU stands for?

When I see this massive outpouring against the government, I realise what JNU is about and why the state perceives it as a threat. We have had a history of changing dominant narratives, asking difficult questions. What JNU stands for is equality and gender justice, and social justice. The government is scared of the fact that a sweeper’s son can study here for Rs.250, that it treats every individual, irrespective of class, as equal. Only the dominant classes, the ruling classes, the RSS and its pracharaks like Narendra Modi can get threatened by it. So we hear BJP leaders saying that JNU women are worse than prostitutes and claiming that 3,000 condoms are found here. We do not think that sex workers are bad individuals. The fact is that those BJP leaders are opposed to women’s freedom, they are opposed to giving an equal space to the marginalised sections. This is the only place in India where the poor can get world-class education. We subvert the whole narrative of merit that the anti-reservationists propagate.

The Sangh Parivar has responded to the campaign with the advice that students should limit themselves to the classrooms, not practice politics.

We think there has to be a linkage between academics and student politics. It enriches our education. In my experience, student politics is inevitable, whether or not you do politics, politics affects you. The decision to scrap fellowships, is it an apolitical decision? No. This is something that is being dictated by international monetary organisations like the WTO, like the World Bank. So which part of it is apolitical? If our research funding is lowered, we will have to voice our concern. After a long struggle, the JNU library was opened for 24 hours. The government’s policies directly affect students. And I don’t understand, if we can vote at this age, why can’t we practise politics? That the RSS believes in such an argument shows that they can’t think of a world outside feudalism. That is why they are against all democratic values.

There is politics of power and there is politics of resistance. What the right wing does is politics of power, and what we do is politics of resistance. We resist their onslaught.

Students have been slapped with sedition charges. What is JNUSU planning now?

We have been asking for the withdrawal of the charges, but in turn the government seems to be on an offensive. It has been profiling Muslim students like Umar and is falsely claiming his links with terrorist groups. Umar and I differ in our politics, but all of us in the campus know he is a bright young man fighting for the rights of the poor. We will fight that legally. The academic suspension of eight students without following due procedure is a repeat of what happened at Hyderabad Central University. In HCU, the excuse was the screening of the documentary “Muzzafarnagar Baaqi Hai”, here it was this event on Kashmir. In HCU, BJP parliamentarian Bandaru Dattatreya intervened directly into the university matter, here it is east Delhi BJP MP Mahesh Giri. In both universities, students from poor and marginalised backgrounds were targeted. We are waiting for Kanhaiya’s bail. Once he is out, we will work on a long-term strategy to take on this fascist government.

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