Friday, June 16, 2017

Why did the JNU students hold a ‘Tea Protest’ against their university administration.

- Guest Post by Aman Sinha

"A University stands for humanism. For tolerance, for reason, for the 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."

JNU’s website proudly showcases these lines by our first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. But is JNU today really a space for adventurism of ideas or for the search of truth? Can a space of free thought like a university stand for the onward march of the human race if it’s denizens are constantly disciplined in all forms of lifestyle?

Recently, JNU’s Estate Branch issued a circular forbidding all dhabas inside campus to stop operating late night citing university rules and regulations. The dhaba owners were directed to shut down business after 11 pm or face a cancellation of license. The student community as well as the dhaba owners protested against such a dictatorial decree. JNUSU General Secretary Satarupa Chakraborty said, "We have been witnessing that the JNU administration has adopted all possible means to scuttle the rights of students, workers and teachers by imposing arbitrary rules. Closing down of dhabas at 11 pm is one such example,"

JNU is known for its rigorous academic pressure. Students have to work all day to make sure they submit their assignments on time. After a hard day, scholars have little time to socialize or get out of their caged world of books, journals, laptops and cellphone. Maybe, that is why the university has had a culture of nightlife, in the form of tea at the Sabarmati Dhaba; basketball or badminton near Tapti hostel; or humming to a guitar at PSR. It is also the time when individuals freely explore that side of themselves which get subverted in the structured life of the day. These scholars, who are engaged in their studies throughout the day, meet at the night and discuss the affairs of the world. It allows them an outlet for the pressure that they handle under such an academic setup. It also allows them an opportunity to engage and formulate new opinions outside the confines of the classroom, and this is tantamount for the growth of an individual.

JNU takes pride of its model campus, which is one of the most democratic and liberal societies in the country. Inside the campus, women and men walk freely and fearlessly day and night. There are no curfews imposed on gender specific lines. More than 50 dhabas operate inside the campus and often they become the hub of activities in the form of debates and discussions ranging from national politics to climate change and international relations. All this happens over a cup of chai-samosa or a late-night plate of chowmein. In the vibrant campus, famous for driving social change, the dhabas become the temples of nightlife.
JNU students enjoying a late night jamming session at the North-East Food Court

JNU’s famous Dr. Ambedkar library stays open 24*7. Many scholars who have to meet deadlines spend whole nights in the library often skipping their dinner. The food joints have been a lifesaver for them. Eateries inside the campus like Ganga Dhaba, North East Food Court, are one of the cheapest food joints in New Delhi. The Tomar family has been running Ganga Dhaba since 1984. Last year they were directed to vacate the university premises before August 18, 2016 and handover the possession of the dhaba to the estate branch of the varsity. After a protest by the students’ community, the administration took back their dictate on the dhaba owner. However, post 9th February, photocopy shops and bookstores don’t remain open till late at night in the campus.

Post 9-Feb incident, there has been a deliberate attempt by the administration to discipline and moral police the scholars, most of whom are adults at the time of their entry into the campus. The important question to ask here is why? Why does the administration want to dictate lives of young adults? One reason could be that the administration, backed by the Hindutva forces are scared of the liberal lifestyle of the students and see it as a threat to their agenda of a patriarchal manuwadi hindu rastra where women are supposed to stay at home, the lower castes and classes are supposed to stay unprivileged and the young students are supposed to obey their elder teachers even if they are tyrannical. Another reason could be to curb the intense political activities inside the campus which takes place mostly at night and at one of these night dhabas only.

After the recent decree, the JNUSU jumped into prompt action even though most of the students were out of campus due to the summer vacations. On 11th June, the JNUSU organized a ‘Tea Protest’ at the Sabarmati Dhaba with the slogan “Raat ko bhi khane ki Azaadi”. On 12th June, the students’union protested before the Campus Development Committee (CDC) meeting demanding the repeal of the arbitrary dhaba timings among other things. The protests gave some fruitful results as the CDC accepted their demands and extended timings of some dhabas till mid-night. The CDC also agreed to form committees to monitor price list of the various dhabas, and look after health and hygiene of sanitary workers.

Even though it is a small battle won in a long war, the student community cannot and should not give in to the disciplinary measures taken by the university administration upon young adult scholars. The curbing of the dhaba timings is only the first step. This will slowly and steadily encroach upon the autonomy of the student community if not resisted with full force.