New Delhi: On the tenth day of the indefinite hunger strike by Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students against the punishments meted out by the High Level Enquiry Committee (HLEC) report, alumni and teachers joined the students to show solidarity and also protest on the actions of the administration.
Students face varying degrees of punishment, from fines to rustication for certain periods, for a campus event on February 9. Both the students and teachers have rejected the HLEC and its report, calling it biased and accusing the administration of not following existing university processes and policies.
Of the 20 students who began the hunger strike, six have had to withdraw due to deteriorating health conditions. Fourteen students still remain on hunger strike, including JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) general secretary Rama Naga and Umar Khalid, charged with sedition along with JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar and Anirban Bhattacharya. Kumar, who was also on hunger strike, withdrew on the ninth day after his condition deteriorated and he had to be taken to AIIMS. For those still on hunger strike, blood pressure and blood sugar levels continue to drop and some have been warned of the possibility of contracting jaundice. Two additional students have now joined the hunger strike and JNUSU members say more may join in the coming days.
“Our bodies may be tired and health dropping, but our spirits are still high,” said Naga, addressing the gathering on Saturday. “We request all of you to please continue to come and show solidarity with us.”
Students have been disappointed by the administration’s response to their struggle. “Ever since the hunger strike started, the administration has maintained a hostile attitude towards the JNUSU and the students on hunger strike,” said JNUSU vice-president Shehla Rashid in a statement. The vice chancellor (VC) has come out with a notice that the hunger strike itself is illegal and even in discussions with the students made it amply clear that there would be no revoking of punishments.”
Alumni of different ages came to JNU’s administrative block, now renamed ‘Freedom Square’ by the protesting students, to show their solidarity with the students and the cause. “The actions initiated against JNU students is politically motivated,” a statement signed by more than 200 alumni said. “We therefore demand that the JNU administration immediately withdraw the proposed disciplinary action and restore normalcy on campus.” The alumni are planning to gather more signatures in the following days and send the statement to the vice-chancellor, said academic and activist Sohail Hashmi. Following the day-long hunger strike by the alumni, a protest march and human chain was organised to continue the agitation.
The teachers’ association has started a relay hunger strike on May 7 that they planned to continue at least until the academic council meeting on May 10. In addition to showing solidarity with students, their hunger strike is a response to a notice from the administration asking all students and teachers to “stop inviting people from outside the campus for any gathering or activity to press your demands”.
“Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) met the VC yesterday and was hopeful of getting over this impasse. However, to our utter shock and immense pain JNU administration chose to threaten JNUTA on the basis of hearsay. JNUTA so far has not invited any individual or institution to join the hunger strike. However, it would like to reassert its privilege to call any institution or individual that it finds fit to speak or perform in JNU as it is well within its democratic rights,” a statement issued by JNUTA says. “Further, JNUTA would like to reiterate its position that it will oppose all efforts to persecute individuals including students from any institution across the world which is done to satisfy mob outcry and false perceptions. With the moral responsibility of a teacher, JNUTA clamours for compassion and justice and urges JNU administration not to fall prey to the ‘situation’ created by motivated elements to vilify JNU.”