As JNU Okays Online Entrance Exam, Students Accuse Vice-Chancellor of a 'Scam'

The university's students' union said the decision was taken unilaterally without any discussion with teachers or students and also accused the administration of clamping down on democratic dissent.

New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru University administration is increasingly limiting the space of democratic discussion and dissent, tenets that were once viewed as being intrinsic to the university space. The JNU students’ union has accused the vice-chancellor of perpetrating a scam by pushing for an online mode in JNU Entrance Exams (JNUEE) for MA, MPhil and PhD admissions.

In a press conference on Monday, the union said that an arbitrary decision was made by the VC to shift to an online multiple choice question (MCQ) entrance exam as opposed to the traditional written one. The VC reportedly made the decision with a committee of teachers he appointed himself. Two members of the committee – Krishendra Meena and Anuja – have previously been accused of plagiarism.

The report of the committee was then presented to the deans of the various schools, who passed the recommendations. This was a deviation from protocol, as such reports are presented to the centre chairpersons. The final report was then tabled to the academic council (AC) that the JNUSU was illegally barred from. The report was “passed unilaterally” without any discussion with teachers or students. There was no dialogue between the administration and the union regarding this.

According to the union’s president, N. Sai Balaji, “This is an active effort to clamp down on the democratic nature of the university.” The union has questioned the feasibility of this move, as it will severely restrict many students from writing the exams. “Students from all social backgrounds apply and eventually get into JNU. Online entrance exams have a distinct urban bias and are detrimental to remote areas, which might not have internet access,” said Sarika, vice president of the JNUSU.

Not the first attempt

This is not the first time the administration has attempted such a clampdown. In the past two weeks, JNU had witnessed unprecedented violence due to the student union elections. In response to this violence, the administration responded with a strict policy of ‘surveillance and security’ measures that ultimately resulted in a “section 144 situation”, as defined by students. This included a no-outsider policy wherein students were required to show their ID cards to enter the campus, as well as carry them on their person at all times. This circular was in effect for almost two weeks and was withdrawn on Monday. In addition, the hostel regulations of the university have become stricter with an almost arbitrary imposition of rules banning the movement of students within hostels after 10 pm.

These rules were more prominently applied to all-women hostels; many women students expressed their surprise at this, since most of the violence occurred near the co-ed hostels much further from the former. There have also been attempts to allegedly curb the movement of students by closing the dhabas as well as deliberately switching off the streetlights.

The newly elected core panel members of the JNU students’ union. Credit: PTI

According to a statement released by the GSCASH student representatives (a student run body that is not recognised by the administration) these measures are “anti-student” and are “restricting the movement of women students in particular.” “The administration says these are security measures but they are actively making the campus unsafe for women by deliberately switching off streetlights and closing off the dhabas,” says Devika Shekhawat, a student at the university.

Systematic raids are also being conducted in the hostels. More than once, the wardens and guards have entered the rooms when students were not present. According to a student witness, in the women’s hostel Tapti, a raid was carried out on Wednesday while all the students were occupied in a GBM. The students eventually stopped the raid. In a press release, the JNU administration has accused the students’ union of interfering with the ‘security measures’ and called for the student body to “abide by the rules and regulations of the university”.

The union, in a statement, has denied all claims of disrupting the administration’s routine work and has labeled these regulations as undemocratic, “the disruption of peace cannot be met with a complete trampling upon of the student community’s movement and liberty.” According to a student union representative, the root of the issue is that nothing substantial is being done to identify the perpetrators of campus violence and instead, these rules are just harassing students.

No information to teachers

JNU teachers have also not received any formal information regarding these altered rules and have also been subjected to intense surveillance. On September 17, the JNU Teachers Association and the students organised a peace march against campus violence and just a few minutes before the march, a notice was issued disallowing any protests within campus. “The question here is about the legality of the notice since the administration does not have the authority to ban any peaceful protests,” said professor Vikas Rawal. Two days after the march, about 15 teachers were asked to submit a written response regarding their participation in it, further reinstating the efforts of the administration to clamp down on peaceful demonstrations and any form of dissent.

On September 20, the women students broke the hostel curfew and marched across campus to protest against the surveillance. “The march is an attempt to showcase the solidarity of the JNU women students against the regressive rules being imposed on us,” said Diya Davis, another student. According to Pinjra Tod, a university activist group, “In a collective spirit to push back this system of surveillance and curfews, women students marched together through the campus in love, rage and solidarity.”

Rachel John is an intern at The Wire.