It has been four days since the masked goons of the ABVP brutally attacked students on campus. A sense of unease still marks the campus atmosphere today, and evidences of the physical violence of the ABVP can be seen in form of the destruction of hostel rooms and other public property. This event can be placed in the long trajectory of the ABVP’s violent existence on campuses which has caused nothing but ruin and harm. SIO stands by the entire JNU fraternity, especially the injured students, teachers and other staff. We also demand, and shall work to ensure, that the administration backed goons who perpetrated the violence are booked under the law and punished. Instead of facing up to their responsibility and having some sense of responsibility, the JNU administration has filed FIRs against JNUSU and other activists while not filing any complaint against the ABVP and its members regarding the attack on 5th January, 2020.
Students of JNU have been protesting the brazen and unreasonable hike in their hostel fees, and the administration has previously tried every means to shut it down without responding to the student’s legitimate concerns. ABVP has also previously attacked students in the course of this fight, attacking students and intimidating them in order to prevent them from boycotting their exams as well as registration. However, the deployment of state-backed goons against legitimate students inside a campus is a new low even for this craven JNU administration, and marks a dark day in the history of India’s educational institutions. Thousands of families across the country send their children to these prestigious institutions for a good education and a better future.
While the JNU VC has already lost all claims to being any kind of an educationist, he bears at least moral responsibility for the physical safety of the campus and the thousands of students placed under his care. Of course, we must remember that this is the same space where Najeeb Ahmed was attacked and institutionally disappeared, due to his Muslim identity. Back then too the administration and the Vice Chancellor had been complicit every step of the way. Today as well, his culpability in the attack on JNU not only abdicates that responsibility but points towards the administration’s shielding of those who carried out that brazen attack. We join the demands for his resignation that have been pouring in from all corners, but we do not believe resignation is enough. He must be held accountable for his culpability in the courts of law as well as the court of public opinion.
The Anti-Muslim Nature of ABVP Violence: The events of 5th January have raised many worrying questions which have to be placed before the university at large. In Sabarmati, but also beyond, there has been a chilling pattern of violence which pinpointed and targeted the rooms of residents who were either Muslim or Kashmiri, and also targeted some rooms which could be identified as belonging to Ambedkarite and left activists. There is no illusion that JNU is a safe space for Muslim students, not after Najeeb, but this kind of targeted room-to-room attack, as many Muslim students have testified to, is a disturbing development. Rooms of multiple Muslim students were targeted and the students in question were called out by name as the goons attempted to break down the door. These violent attempts to open these specific rooms involved throwing rocks into the windows and using the fire extinguishers to suffocate the residents. It forced some residents to jump down the Sabarmati balcony, injuring themselves. It is a sad reality that the information on the exact room numbers of Muslim students could only have been provided by insiders. This shows that it is not merely the administration or violent right-wing groups which follow Islamophobia in practice, but instead, the social fabric of our university which itself has been imbued with anti-Muslim sentiment to a great deal. In this, the role of many faculty members is to be strongly questioned as well. Quasi-organizations like the JNUTF which are nothing but fronts of the RSS and faculty members who are loyalists of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch on campus have to be told in the strongest terms that there is no place for such collaboration with the fascist right wing which will be tolerated by the students any further. The involvement of the Chief Proctor and many other faculty members in attacking the students is a shameful fact, which has to be challenged by the students at all levels. The proctorial office continues to send show cause notices to students while carrying out violence against them.
The anti-Muslim nature of the entire violent day of 5th January has to be highlighted in all forums and repeatedly so. Since the forced disappearance of Najeeb, there have been sporadic incidents of anti-Muslim nature where Muslim students have been heckled, harassed and even directly attacked. Only recently in October 2019 did the ABVP heckle and violently harass many Kashmiri students for hours, calling them slurs and threatening them to no end. For how long will we continue to tolerate such incidents? Therefore it’s necessary to keep the crucial questions of the Islamophobic nature of this attack, as well as to re-centre the fight on the issues which were being raised, rather than making this only into a fight of saving JNU or standing with JNU, a mistake we have made in the past. Instead, it is time to link our struggles of the fee hike to that of the national movement against CAA-NRC-NPR, for which universities like AMU and Jamia and institutions like Nadwa suffered brutally, due to their identifiable nature of being Muslim institutions. As students of JNU, we have to ensure that the platform that we are given due to the nature of our university has to be put to use as a bulwark against the demonization and immense criminalization of not just Muslim lives within our university, but also Muslim institutions and universities where students have literally put their education, safety and bodies on line to resist CAA-NRC-NPR, for example in AMU where the FIR count itself runs into the 1000s. Solidarity has always been offered generously to JNU in its struggles when in moments of crisis, as is being done today; it is our job to use this momentum and sense of organic solidarity to further deepen the movements that are being carried out across the country, whether by the Muslim women of Shaheen Bagh, or those tortured, maimed and martyred in Uttar Pradesh in the struggle against CAA-NRC-NPR.
The Way Forward: The last month has seen a democratic uprising of students in campuses across the country, coming out strongly in support of equal citizenship. The collective rejection of the BJP government’s attempt to alter the fundamental value of equal citizenship has been met with brute force and brazen lies. Despite the police action in JMI and AMU, both campuses have held firm despite the best attempts to beat them down, and their struggle continues stronger than ever. We have also seen police brutality in BHU, and its inability to shake the resolve of students there. We have seen students arrested, detained, beaten up and harassed in different ways across the nation. Every attempt by the state to silence the students has been met by the unflinching assertion that the student community cherishes equal citizenship as a fundamental value and will tolerate no compromises with it.The state has no answer to these questions, much like how our VC has no answers to any accountability asked of him. Instead they have denied plain facts and used their propaganda machine to spread misinformation. They have called the protestors everything from highly organized criminals to a disorganized mob to poor confused children. They have tried to lie, belittleand even beat the protestors down. But our questions remain the same, and the resolve has only grown stronger. The struggle of India’s students and youth shall continue unabated till all threats to the fundamental value of equal citizenship are eradicated.
In this light, it is also our suggestion to the student body, all organizations and JNUSU that this attack must be a starting point for a broader movement which draws connections between JNU, AMU, Jamia, BHU and other institutions. It is not the time to retreat within our spaces but to link the issues that are being fought across campuses, and across the country. The vulnerabilities and increased insecurity of students on campus cannot be undone by living in an atmosphere of fear, or merely defending against future attacks. We call upon the students who have gone home in the aftermath of the attack to return to campus and work together in leading a movement against the fee hike and other issues. It is not the time to leave this space, but to strengthen it and ensure the safety of the university body as a collective, not merely for ourselves as individuals. The struggle for inclusive, accessible and equitable education is also a struggle for affirming our most basic rights, including staking our claim as equal citizens when these rights are being threatened the most.