Dissent

JNU Students Emerge From Hiding; Police Not Allowed on Campus Yet

A group of JNU students, who had gone underground after the February 9 incident, have resurfaced. The police are stationed outside JNU to arrest the students, but have not yet been given permission to enter the campus.

Umar Khalid. Credit: Shome Basu

Umar Khalid. Credit: Shome Basu

New Delhi: Ten days after they went underground after being blamed for chanting “seditious” slogans at a campus programme on February 9, a group of students, including Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya, Rama Naga, Ashutosh Kumar and Anant Prakash Narayan, resurfaced at the JNU campus on February 21 night. The students claimed that they had been in hiding all this while fearing “mob violence”.

While the FIR filed on the incident is against “unknown persons”, all five students have been named in the police inquiry report pertaining to it. These students and JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar have also been named in a police letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Thirty-five people – including Khalid, Bhattacharya, Naga, Kumar, Narayan, Kanhaiya, and current and former students – have been named in a police inquiry report.

Students speak

The six students have been sitting outside the administrative block on campus since resurfacing, accompanied by other students and teachers in a show of support. Khalid, Narayan, Kumar and Bhattacharya spoke to the gathered students and thanked them for their continuing support. “The first few days I was quite scared”, Narayan told the crowd. “But once I saw all of your support, all that fear went away”.

Khalid, who has been targeted by the media as the “mastermind” of the February 9 event, spoke out against the profiling he had been subjected to: “Mera naam Umar Khalid zaroor hai (my name is Umar Khalid), but I am not a terrorist”, he started off by saying. “7 years of politics on this campus and I have never thought of or presented myself as a Muslim. I believe in holistic politics, fighting for all disadvantaged groups. But to quote Rohit (Vemula), ‘I was reduced to my immediate identity’ for the last ten days. This is really sad”. Khalid blames the media trials for this. “An adivasi is a maoist, a Muslim is a terrorist. They won’t get away with this,” he said. He also expressed the panic he felt when reading about threats to his family.

Both Khalid and Bhattacharya went on to equate a university that does not allow dissent to a prison. “They are scared of us because we think. Every student has the right to put forward their view without fear,” Khalid said. “You can put us in jail, but you can’t make this campus a jail,” Bhattacharya added. “We won’t stop asking questions”. They also linked their struggles to others happening all over the country, including those by Honda workers, the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, Soni Sori and at the Hyderabad Central University.

The six students all voiced their support for Kanhaiya, who is in police custody on widely debated sedition charges, asking that he be released unconditionally.

Police waiting for JNU administration approval

The police tried to enter the JNU campus on Sunday night and Monday morning to arrest the six students, but have not yet been given permission by the VC. While police presence at the gate is high, they have not been able to enter the campus yet. The students have said that while they will not go out and surrender themselves to the police but neither they will not resist arrest.

The VC has met with the JNU Teachers’ Association, who have been repeatedly asking that the police not be allowed on campus. The teachers are also demanding that the administration do what it can to have all charges against the students dropped, and a “credible” internal enquiry be conducted that follows due process. The VC is now also planning to meet all the students who have been charged with sedition.

ABV JNU head Alok Singh (centre) and others at a press conference. Credit: Shome Basu

ABV JNU head Alok Singh (centre) and others at a press conference. Credit: Shome Basu

Meanwhile, ABVP members at JNU have asked that the “culprits” be booked. In a press conference led by ABVP JNU head Alok Singh on Monday afternoon, they said that the five students should be persuaded to surrender so as to not “malign the institution further”. Condemning the rallies taken out in support of the accused students by JNU teachers and students, they demanded that classes continue as normal.

Several protesters had gathered outside the campus gate on Sunday night and Monday morning demanding that justice be served to the “anti-nationals”.

International support continues

International scholars continue to show their support to the students and teachers of JNU, increasing the pressure on the administration on how it handles the issue. After Noam Chomsky and Jan Kregel, Akeel Bilgrami and Veena Das have sent questions directly to the VC.

“Since the evidence that is now available seems to strongly suggest that the video of Mr. Kumar’s speech was doctored and since the video is, in any case, legally inadmissable as evidence, would you please make clear to the many admirers of Jawaharlal Nehru University who do not wish it to fall into ill repute: On what grounds has the Registrar of the university made the claim that there is ‘irrefutable proof’ that establish the charge brought against Mr. Kumar?” Bilgrami has asked.

Das has added, “I am appalled that under your leadership, the freedom of thought stands completely abrogated at JNU. Could you please explain why you have allowed a brand of vigilantism exercised by the goons of the various front organizations of the BJP to intimidate students and faculty who interrogate the use of death penalty and outdated sedition laws to muzzle any protests? What gives you the authority to decide that shouting of slogans constitutes prima facie evidence of sedition? Why have you overlooked normal university procedures in setting up an Enquiry Committee without any clear terms of reference? As the chief academic officer of the university how do you explain your failure to prevent the atmosphere of intimidation and even physical violence against students on your campus?”