Since September 2020, the Indian student life tried to adapt to the Covid crisis. Most of the University of Delhi try to reopen , the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) should open its campus from November 2nd but only for the Phd student in their final year. To be precise, JNU University had regular courses only during one month and half since October 2019. Between Lockdown, social movements, terrorism attack and Coronavirus, the time is come to explain why JNU is not a “normal” University in India.

Everything started in 1964 when the Rajya Sabha ad the Lok Sabha, the Indian parliaments, started to discussing about a new project : A new Federal University which could train the diplomacy and state elite of India. In 1964, International Relations studies were not widespread in the world. India and Western countries had a deep difference about international perspective at this time. If Western countries created International Relations studies to struggle against communism, India introduce this new science to exist and struggle between western Impérialisme, communism and colonialism. This unique struggle give a singular place to JNU in the Indian political space and in the international space. More than an University, it is the latest Indian institution after both parliament to denounce imperialism, corruption, constitutional offenses. By their study domaines, its historical background, JNU,  created by Congress Party (socialism), is the last Indian socialism camp in Modi’s reign and its BJP’s India.

Entry of School of International Studies of the Jawaharlal Nehru University

Credit : Flavien Deguilhaume, Entrance to the JNU School of International Studies

 

The history of JNU didn’t start with the election of the far right at the Head of India. JNU was created exactly to be a internal socialist lobbying. Since its opening in 1969, JNU knew 8 massive student social movements with national repercussions. The most recent and probably the most important happened between 2019 and 2020. The JNU Student’s Union (JNUSU) organise every year a presidential election. This election is followed by the Indian press like a national campaign. The profile of the winner is spread all around India, and be elected as the president is the insurance to start your national political life by the royal way. Most of the Indian’s students, who follow the political life, know your name, your ideas and your position. Your choices on this or another subject is follow by all others University of the country. It’s not uncommon that JNUSU starts national student protest movement. Unfortunately it transform the president in a genuine target for the opposition.

Credit : Public WhatsApp conversation of JNU Student, Door of Vice-Chanceler of the Jawharlal Nehru University

The word “target” is extremely appropriate. Aishe Ghosh, the current president of JNUSU, have lead since October 5th 2019 a global Indian student social movement against privatisation of the high education, the growth of the University fees, the reform of the citizenship bill amendment  and the banalisation of anti-muslim violence after the attack by the police of the muslim University of Jamia Millia of Delhi. On the evening of 5 January 2020, fifty peoples entered into Aishe Ghosh’s student residence on the JNU campus and ransacked the rooms and several inhabitants were injured. For several days a rumour circulated that it was an attack by the ABVP, an extreme right-wing student union. Indeed, one of the pictures taken during the attack shows the similarity between the clothes of one of the attackers and an ABVP activist a few hours earlier on the same campus. It had been proved five days after by Delhi Police, but the fifty terrorists had leaved the campus without any problem, even if every exit doors and every buildings of the campus are protected by guards. More than the attack, the problem is the ambiguity of the JNU administration and the Vice-Chancellor which controlled, in theory, the guards. The last financial report of JNU showed that JNU spending more and more on security and less to the research. The congress party named this complicity as a “state-sponsored terrorism”.

                               

In February 2020, the students and the administration resumed regular academic activities. While the events at the JNU, the Citizenship Amendment Act, the transformation of Ladakh (Indian Kashmir Region) into the Union territory and the National Registration of Citizens Act showed the authoritarian turn of Narendra Modi’s government; at the same time, the space that JNU has taken in the media, the fact that television journalists have stood daily in front of the doors of JNU for several months, the national stature of the JNUSU President, and the repetition of such events in the history of the Republic of India show the importance of this University in the national political life. The Jawaharlal Nehru Univerisity is not only an educational institution, its a political symbol attached to the founding fathers of India, it’s a progressive idea of what is India. All JNU students know this, know their unique place in the country when they are accepted to JNU, know the strength that their actions could give to the whole country.  When you study in JNU, you are in one of the hearts of the Indian democracy.

credit Flavien Deguilhaume, student protester in front of School of International studies of JNU in January 2020

In March 2020, JNU knew its first lockdown which organised by the state and not by the student protesters. If we forget the sanitarian crisis, this reversal of roles is little bit funny regarding history of the University. The problem today, in October 2020, one year after the start of the crisis is not to reopened JNU but to be careful of Covid’s spreading. The Vice-Chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar is still the vice chancellor against the will of some students and professors. Aishe Ghosh complained on the last October 17th that a new Committee happened “without chief Medical Center” and with “no students representation” to reopened the University. If only doctoral students in their final year should be able to return on the campus on November 2nd, 2020, the political competition has begun again between the ABVP and the JNUSU. The first promoting and protesting to quickly reopen the university and the second who would also like but prefer to be sure that the health situation allows it.

Like one year ago, the debate which happen in JNU is the mirror of what happen in all India. Its consequences will probably still have a national impact, as they have since 1969.

 

Credit : Flavien Deguilhaume, student’s graffiti founded in french after the student protestation of Autumn 2019, “Education liberty for you and me”

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