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Stop violence, not dissent 

By all accounts, the series of attack on educational institutions by both state agencies as well as non-state agencies in the recent past would have invited unequivocal condemnation from all quarters, notwithstanding one’s ideological proclivity.


However, India, once proudly proclaimed as the cradle of major world religions and a shining example of unity in diversity, has been methodically and radically divided, with religion being the most prominent, and thus the polarised reactions. 


However, the latest violence unleashed by ‘masked goons’ in premier Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on the chilly night of January 5 is the most portentous attack yet.


 “It is apocalyptic in a triple sense,” influential political commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta, wrote in The Indian Express. “At the level of discourse, the normalisation of the phrase ‘tukde tukde gang’ abetted by the home minister, with the help of a pliant media, laid the background conditions for this kind of violence.” He further noted that the “current political regime cannot exist unless it finds a new enemy. It now legitimises itself, not by its positive accomplishments, but by using the enemy as a rallying point.”


“The Hindutva dispensation’s extreme intolerance towards intellectualism in general, and institutions in particular, has been on naked display since 2014. JNU has been a special target, and that itself is telling. JNU recruits from India’s vast diversity and offers its students the best opportunity to develop critical thinking and excel in their chosen paths of life,” goes an editorial on The Hindu, after the attack.


Concurring with both, it is also pertinent to mention that while allegations flew thick and fast, one thing is clear, the violence is too gory and systematic to be declared most shockingly as "scuffles” between students over a disagreement over internal issues within the university, by the Delhi police and the University’s administration.  Anyone who had studied in JNU would also affirm that such contingent of attackers would not have entered the campus without any ‘connection.’   


Sunday’s event is also a brutal reminder of a similar incident on February 9, 2016 when in a single stroke, JNU was tagged as “anti-nationalist, secessionist, shallow and semi-literate and et cetera.” Fanned by sycophantic (electronic) media, the controversy surrounding cultural event making a “principled stand” against all forms of the death penalty was taken as the collective standpoint of JNU-ites and the institution, and erupted into a full-fledged attack on everything that is JNU.


Since then, JNU faced constant vilification, intimidation and patronising attitude, amply aided by the administration, which seem to be more interested in dismantling the progressive affirmative action the University had achieved over the years, rather than working for the students’ benefits.


As before, bakhts and trolls have launched their latest mission to disgrace JNU in full throttle. The then Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) President Kanhaiya Kumar and other students were arrested and charged with sedition, among others. In the latest episode, FIRs, according to media reports, has been registered against the current Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) president Aise Ghosh and nineteen others. Déjà vu.


Nothing changes, only vilification and witch-hunting continue; but the unwavering resolve to preserve the democratic ethos of JNU and India, also remains intact.


The University is often accused of engendering ‘rebellious’ and radical interpretation of different issue and questioning of the mainstream narrative. But the very essence of University is to enable such possibilities as well as opens and enhances one’s worldview to different possibilities. Democratic protestation and dissent, ergo, are very much part campus culture and a university that does not allow atmosphere is like a prison.


Conscientious not ‘peek and call’ students, should be the ideal milieu of its academic curriculum. “In essence, JNU teaches: That it is all right to question, debate and offer alternatives to grand narratives; that no single theory is applicable to all human circumstances.”


In an election year in the seat of power in Delhi, one cannot rule out the various stakeholders at play. It is also telling that the failure of the student wing of the two most politically influential bodies is an achievement in itself for JNU, in the real sense of democracy. The cudgel of anti-nationalism, thus, is raised by one such wing when its brand of majoritarian politics based on belligerent jingoistic fervour and religious dogmatism, falls flat in JNU.


The Human Resource Development Ministry, in a welcome move, has stated that "Acts of violence, anarchy will not be tolerated; JNU incident unfortunate and highly condemnable." 


Anyone not pricked by the visual images and narratives of the violent rampage can be accused of being apathetically siding and justifying the action. Fittingly, conscientious citizens across India have shown its abhorrence and condemned for such violence. 


The only way the Centre and Prime Minister, as The Hindu editorial noted, “can prove that this mayhem was not sanctioned is to come down heavily on the police inaction and bring the mobsters to exemplary justice.’


Its outcome would be the litmus test for India’s democratic and secular credential.  University should be a place where critical thinking and democratic dissents find their ideal abode, not violence. 


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