JNU’s Proctor Should Stop Infringing on the Digital and Political Rights of Students

In a case of political censorship, students on campus were unable to access news outlets like The Wire and NDTV on the JNU wi-fi network for two days.

Jawaharlal Nehru University campus. Credit: PTI

Jawaharlal Nehru University campus. Credit: PTI

I was very surprised to receive an official notice in which the proctor of Jawaharlal Nehru University asked me to explain why action shouldn’t be taken against me for exposing the administration’s clandestine attempts at restricting access to selective content over the university’s wi-fi network. In my view, it is the university administration and not I who should be doing the explaining.

The administration should explain how and why certain search terms, webpages and videos were being filtered between November 11-13, 2017, when numerous students on campus started flagging the issue – all at the same time. What a funny coincidence!

Hundreds of students independently, over the span of two days, flagged attempts to filter content related to student protests, the Dalit agitation at Una in Gujarat, opposition leaders etc, as well as content from news outlets such as The Wire and NDTV. A few weeks ago, I submitted a detailed response to the proctor’s office, along with video documentation of the content filtering.

In the event that the JNU administration misplaced the papers related to my response, I am repeating the essence of what I said again. This way, even if the email I have sent goes missing, the proctor’s office can retrieve my response via Google. As long as they have not filtered the search keyword “Shehla Rashid” once again!

The right to free information If there is anything in the whole episode that merits investigation, it is the act of censorship by JNU itself. It is a very serious matter as to why the names of the institution’s own students – Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid – were filtered out from YouTube. I demand that an inquiry committee be set up to investigate the hows and whys of this act of censorship.

The so-called complaint by Centre for Information Studies (CIS) on the basis of which this whole enquiry has been set up does not even mention my name. There was no basis to summon me over this. Even though the proctor does not have jurisdiction over my tweets, I submitted a response. The least that he should do is to give me a copy of the enquiry report. Without even doing as much, I am being asked to explain my position, when it is the administration that should be the one offering explanations.

Therefore, JNU should withdraw the show-cause notice sent to me and refrain from sending it to others, because this amounts to harassment. Students can’t punish us for exposing the violation of their right to free information. The university can, I suppose, but then it would be acting like a politician, not an arbiter. The proctor would then lose his moral authority as an administrator.

Already, under the current vice-chancellor, two of his predecessors resigned because they were being pressured into giving political verdicts. If the present incumbent is under too much pressure from the VC or from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), he should do the honourable thing and resign. There is no need to be a foot-soldier of the vice-chancellor’s ‘Notice Raj’.

Elusive explanations This show-cause notice makes a laughable allegation that I have defamed the university. Here’s the thing. The JNU administration is not JNU. We are JNU. The university is ours.

And do you know who defames it? The Times of India called Najeeb Ahmed, a student of our university, an ISIS sympathiser. Delhi Police, on the same day, refuted the news as fake and baseless. Najeeb’s poor mother does not have the means to file a defamation case. Has the proctor, or the JNU administration, bothered to file a defamation case against the Times of India‘s owners or editors? Do they know who is running an online petition to get Times of India to apologise? I am. I’m the one trying to save the university’s reputation and the reputation of its students.

Najeeb Ahmed's family at a protest demanding an expedited investigation. Credit: PTI/Files

Najeeb Ahmed’s family at a protest demanding an expedited investigation. Credit: PTI/Files

Did the proctor’s office or the office of the VC send a defamation notice to BJP MLA Gyan Dev Ahuja, who said that JNU dustbins are full of 3,000 condoms and some non-existent “abortion injections”? Why hasn’t the JNU administration sought an apology from him or charged him with defamation?

Why haven’t’ they charged the well-known authors of the sensationalist “dossier” that defamed JNU students from Northeastern states by alleging that they run sex-rackets? Why haven’t they filed a defamation case against certain newspapers which engaged in sensationalist reportage of the hostel raids that seemed to suggest that girls are alien creatures that have been accidentally found in JNU hostels?

Prof Buddha Singh falsely alleged that “there are Naxals in JNU who broke his car” in order to get media limelight. ABVP leader Saurabh Sharma regularly tells the media that JNU is an anti-national University. These are things that will actually cause tangible losses to JNU students – it will hamper their placements and endanger their lives. How many show-cause notices have you sent to Singh and Sharma? Even the people who assaulted Najeeb were not punished by office of the proctor while JNUSU office-bearers and student activists were fined for protesting Najeeb’s disappearance.

If anyone or anything is defaming the university, it is the dictatorial and biased fashion in which the current VC is running things. The fact is that the proctor can’t demand an explanation from students for tweeting or writing articles in newspapers and journals. JNU students and teachers appear on TV panels, serve on government committees, maintain social media accounts, write books, and so on. JNUSU even deposed before the Justice Verma Committee, whose landmark recommendations were instrumental in advancing the discourse on women’s freedom.

University administrators have no right to police all these activities. In attempting to do so, they hope to create a chilling effect and discourage JNU students from speaking out against the administration’s actions.The proctor should remember that this university belongs to students who resisted the Emergency and went to jail for doing so. This university belongs to Shaheed Chandrashekhar Prasad, who took a bullet for speaking the truth. We will continue to speak up every time the administration attempts political censorship.

Shehla Rashid is a Ph.D. Scholar, CSLG, and a proud student of JNU.

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  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    More power to you, your fellow JNUites and students at all our other universities, Ms Rashid. Heres hoping you stay the course in your fight against authoritarianism, tyranny and fascism! Good luck.