Students Islamic Organization extends its solidarity to the students’ movement against the new hostel manual. The university has seen an unprecedented and sustained students’ movement in the last month, which is still continuing in full steam. Students from all centres, hostels and organizations have worked tirelessly to sustain the movement which has come at great physical, mental and academic cost to the students who have nevertheless persisted in the quest for an equitable and inclusive public education. It is indeed a positive sign that the campus, which has been systematically depoliticized, has seen this re-engagement with involvement in activism from all students. The success of the movement can already be seen in the engagement that the MHRD has been forced into entering into. It is a moral defeat of the JNU Administration that they have refused to meet the students, and have pushed the students to be put in a position where they have been brutally attacked and beaten by Delhi Police. The latest incidents of violence against students by the police during the Long March have been brutal and the police has not hesitated from attacking visually challenged students and other students with disabilities, as well as manhandling and attacking women students, including pulling their hijabs and using very abusive language against them. In such a moment where students have been putting their education and physical and mental well-being at stake, the collective conscience of the media has only been busy in engaging in slander against students involved in the movement.
In such a moment, it is worth critically reflecting upon some questions that have emerged from the movement, and those that have not been deeply emphasized upon. The entire movement has become centered around the fee hike, especially as the other concerns around hostel curfew and dress code were somewhat resolved by the administration by allegedly removing it from the final version. This has allowed for mass mobilization around a single issue, but it has come at the cost of many other equally important issues like the question of reservation in hostel manual which has been removed. The issue of fee hike should not lead us into amnesia that if the fee hike is resolved, JNU will become an inclusive or egalitarian place. If we examine recent history of JNU admissions, it is obvious that students from marginalized backgrounds, such as Muslim students or Dalit, Adivasi, OBC or PWD students have only gained access to JNU after the introduction of Mandal Commission. No matter how low JNU’s fee structure is, it cannot stand in for affirmative action, reservation and social justice. Even if JNU’s fee structure is converted into a fully funded, effectively free model, it would not allow for the entry of these marginalized sections unless a substantive model of affirmative action is in place, which has systematically been eroded by the JNU administration in recent years.
The entire issue of JNU admissions or equity within JNU cannot be seen in a purely economic sense; this erases the question of social justice entirely. The students who will be pushed out of JNU – who are they? Are they those who can be purely categorized as “poor”? It is an unavoidable fact that those who will be pushed out are those who are structurally and socially excluded from education. It is well known that Muslims have only gained access to higher education in recent years, and that too at a very slow pace. When Muslim students are finally reaching these “elite”, allegedly “progressive” higher educational spaces, they are being systematically being pushed out. These hard fought gains by many who are first generation learners among the Muslim community will be systematically undone if the proposed changes go through. As it exists, higher university spaces are already spaces of extreme vulnerability and uncertainty for Muslims, as we saw in the recent case of the institutional murder of Fathima Lateef in IIT-Madras.
This also leads us to ask – why has reservation in hostel not been a rallying call of this movements? Why has it been unable to link it to issues such as removal of deprivation points – after which, 2018 admission data shows a significant drop in percentage of rural entrants as well as those with family income <6000 per month; this data is also missing the breakdown of SC/ST/OBC/PWD or minority students and how the removal of these points has affected their entry. It is not a question of restoring JNU to status quo which existed before the fee hike, but instead to see fee hike rollback as only a first step in the many changes which have to be introduced into the admission and fee structure. Unless these questions are raised, social justice will remain a distant dream for many students. It should be a demand of the movement, that in addition to the erstwhile reservation system, minority students, particularly Muslims should also be given priority in hostel allocation through the form of reservation, as is given to other marginalized groups. Not only has data being collected during the movement shown that majority of the Muslim students who are being affected by the fee hike coming from vulnerable Muslim backgrounds, such as OBC Muslims and those with a very low family income, it would be very difficult for any Muslim student in Delhi to find housing and accommodation outside of a campus environment, where they are relatively safer when compared to the neighboring areas of JNU. JNU also has a fledgling, but growing community of Muslim women who are otherwise so marginalized in higher academia that like Fathima Lateef, their entire existence is rendered vulnerable and near impossible by stigma around their name, their hijab, and their hyper visibility on Islamophobic campuses. What will such changes mean for all these groups?
Secondly, we wish to ask – who is putting their lives at stake? What is the role of the JNUTA and the teacher community of this university? The faculty in this university need to stop putting the entire onus of the movement onto those who are most vulnerable and will lose out the most, and for whom every day of existence in this university is already a struggle. The JNUTA is not a student body – it cannot limit itself to merely conducting marches within campus emulating the model of a student strike. The faculty community – which has already played a significant role in opposing OBC reservations historically, or opposing the implementation of Abdul Nafey Committee report’s recommendations – has to also share the burden of the risk that comes with student movements and be willing to take a strong stand that no such fee hike can be passed, at any cost, whether it means complete refusal to co-operate with the cycle of academic work, or committing to more radical action which may be required. If students are coming out of their comfort zones, day in and day out, it is imperative that those with more stability and position on this campus put their social and political capital to good use against this administration. If the movement has to continue and gain fruition, the entire burden of academic deadlines will be on students. In that moment, will the faculty be willing to side with students or break ranks? This has to be carefully ensured by the movement. Breaking normalcy does not only mean conducting classes outside the classroom, but also means understanding the do-or-die situation of the proposed hike, and the various exclusions which are already writ large in the so-called inclusive structure of JNU.
The movement is already historical, but it is by no means finished. It will also be the JNUSU’s responsibility to ensure that the political discourse of the movement is set thus that the possible successful achievement of its primary demand does not mean the end of a broad, political engagement of the student body with the questions of social justice. Social justice organizations and Muslim organizations have been raising questions of these inequities and stratification consistently for many years and they cannot be sidelined if the MHRD or the JNU administration effectively reverses one demand of fee hike. Instead, the momentum should be used to further push our demands and make JNU’s commitment to social justice not in paper, but in reality.