After a massive student protest against the fee hike and the horrific incidents of violence that unfolded on January 5, the administration of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) decided to reopen classes for the winter semester on Monday, January 14. The decision was, however, greeted with students and teachers calling for boycotting of classes.
The student’s union has claimed that they are boycotting classes owing to fee hike, while the JNU Teacher’s Association has stated that their boycott is to demand resignation of Vice Chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar.
The decision of the university administration to reopen classes and to extend the winter semester registration to January 15 is seen by many as an attempt to show that “normalcy” has apparently been returned in a campus, which had been rocked by a brutally violent attack unleashed by a mob of masked men, in which around 30 people, including JNU Student’s Union president Aishe Ghosh, were injured.
Prof. Burton Cleetus, a faculty member at JNU, said there are many reasons why the campus is not yet ready for a fresh semester. “The exams of the previous semester have not yet been held. Also many sessions and assignment submissions are pending,” he said.
Najeeb V.R, a PhD student at JNU, echoes Prof. Cleetus. “Only half of our last semester has been completed. How do you expect us to skip to a new semester without writing last semester’s exams and without submitting any assignments?”
Prof. Cleetus is also of the opinion that the violent incidents that unfolded in JNU have created uncertainties. “A lot of things are uncertain regarding the violence that took place in JNU. First of all, somebody has to be held accountable. Secondly, the students have faced a lot of trouble due to the events on the 5th.”
For some, the incident has been traumatising, Prof. Cleetus said, and added that because of this, some of the students haven't returned to the campus. It would not be possible to resume classes without resolving these issues, Prof. Cleetus said. He also claimed that there are attempts by the administration to rubbish the event as a “minor incident”, and said the VC is yet to acknowledge the seriousness of the incident.
“The violence on the 5th has generated fear in many students due to which many have not come back for classes,” Najeeb said, adding that the events have created a perception that the campus is no longer safe. He further said albeit identifying the perpetrators, nobody has been arrested by the police, who claim that the “investigation is under progress.” Without apprehending them, the situation will not be resolved, Najeeb added.
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As for the fee hike, students are complaining that the withdrawal of the utility charges is not a complete solution. Najeeb said the administration should also roll back the drastic increase in the room rent, which skyrocketed from 10 rupees to 300 rupees for a double-seater room. Najeeb added that the students had chosen not to register for the winter semester unless the administration withdraws the increase in room rent. The UGC had promised to release funds in order to bear the utility charges imposed on the student’s fees, although only for the upcoming semester.
Prof. Cleetus claimed that the administration is responsible for the present deadlock as it tried to bring about a change in fees, a move never introduced in any central university or other universities managed by the government. “The proposed fee hike would have put a heavy burden on students and favored students from a certain section of the society,” he says.
Despite the move by the administration to resume classes, the teachers have decided to boycott them. The JNUTA, which has been at loggerheads with the VC after the events on January 5, has called for the sacking of Kumar. In a press statement released on Monday by JNUTA, the association clarified that “restoration of normalcy is an essential precondition and after 5th January this has to include the removal of VC.”
Prof. Anand Ranganathan, another faculty member at JNU, said it is the left-leaning faction of the JNU faculty that has called for boycott. “The university has to function,” Prof. Ranganathan said, adding, “The right to protest is, however, not a right to prevent.”
It was in October last year, owing to the release of a hostel manual that increased the existing fees, that a wave of protest hit the JNU campus. Students demanding rollback of the fee hike and relaxation of restrictions imposed under the provisions of the hostel manual took to the streets and locked horns with the police. Classes have been disrupted since then.