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Shaming JNU: Go beyond Kanhaiya and Umar – Views of an Alumnus

I am a proud JNU alumnus.

Let me give three disclaimers before I write what I want.

First: I don’t intend to support anyone who ‘by words or by signs or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India’.
Second: I don’t believe that every student enrolled in JNU and every human being found in the vast JNU campus is patriotic and not anti-national.
Third: I don’t wish to judge the rationale of law enforcement authorities. They may have their own reasons unknown to me. I have faith in the judicial system.

There are twin objectives for this article. One is to say that JNU is not what is projected in the media today. The other is to tell that all is not well with the student community in JNU in the recent years.

What is real JNU?

I am deeply pained at what I keep hearing about JNU in the last few weeks. What real JNU is? Is it just a few individuals who have been accused of anti-national activities? I thought of writing this after seeing the misplaced generalizations of not the media or of its viewers and readers about JNU, but of some of the brilliant people from the academia and bureaucracy.

I have studied in thirteen institutions in the country. But no institution has influenced and shaped me so much the way JNU did.

Train Number 2625, Kerala Express from Kottayam to New Delhi, used to carry not only my bag full of cut-mango pickles, dry coconut chutney and banana chips, but also a lot of dreams. I was privileged to get selected in this prestigious university after qualifying the UGC Research Fellowship examination, All India JNU Entrance Examination conducted across the country in all major cities and an equally tough interview by the best professors in the country in the chosen subject.

It was a very hot day in the month of July that I joined JNU. That was my second visit to the northern part of the country; first being at the time of interview. I stepped into the vast campus with a lot of apprehensions.   I didn’t get accommodation in the hostel initially for about three months. But, in JNU that was not an issue. There were hundreds of seniors, who irrespective of the course they were pursuing or region from which they were coming, were ready to accommodate the new students in their rooms. I met a Bihari gentleman who was pursuing MPhil in Life Sciences through a Keralite senior and he gave his room all to me for most days when he was on field work. When he stayed in the room I comfortably slept on the floor. Though I was in an unfamiliar environment (the weather, the diet, the language, the lifestyle etc.) it took me only a few days to assimilate well to the rich, diverse, and inclusive academic culture in JNU.

Room No. 123 E, Brahmaputra Hostel was allotted to me on my birthday and I wrote on the wall of my room the lines of Ralph Emerson: ‘Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm’. I realized that I need to jump out of the narrow and inward looking walls that separated Indians in the name of caste, language, region, religion and diet. Hundreds of posters on the walls across JNU campus were my first lessons on topics such as democracy, free thinking, dialogue, nationalism, patriotism and development. I started loving my country much more than before. For the first time I understood that I should think and act as an Indian and a global citizen, rather than basking on my primodial glories and ethnic sensitivities.

JNU gave me pleasant surprises unlike what I was used to. Teachers behaved as friends and lectures were meaningful conversations. Student could walk in anytime with a mug of coffee and join the discussions. None bothered about marking attendance. The learning was more substantive than procedural. I was amazed at the extent of academic expertise of the teachers on the subject. I was equally amazed at the sharp thoughts and the intelligent expressions of my classmates. Classroom sessions were just the beginning of learning and the discussion continued in the corridors, canteens and hostel rooms. 

JNU was vibrant in the nights. While we queued up to pick up our dishes for dinner, there would be a number of leaflets and cyclostyled handouts on various social, economic, political and international affairs kept on the table. We used to read all those materials while having our hot chapatis served on the table.  After dinner, intellectual discussions used to happen in the mess halls and at various locations in the campus on various national and international issues. As a student, I considered those events as great learning experiences rather than political brain washing. One is not coerced to follow even remotely any party, association or ideology or to subscribe to any views. There was space for every type of dissent, opinion and suggestion on the topics debated in the campus.  Mediocre and vulgar minds accuse JNU as the den of anti-nationals and the campus as a yard of liquor bottles, contraceptives and cigarette butts. Those who say that has not lived in JNU.

Dhabas in JNU campus are said to be the nocturnal hot spots of students who discussed and debated issues that mattered to the world over a cup of tea and samosa. It is an unwritten rule in JNU that those who receive fellowships and scholarships pay for the refreshments of those who do not have any funding to support their studies. JNU students were not just armchair theoreticians. There were many who worked with farmers and other disadvantaged communities during the semester breaks. In my role as the University Secretary of the National Service Scheme, I could gather several students to organize various social and charitable activities within and outside the campus.

I have learned the lessons in democracy and responsible citizenship not from my school or college text books. It was in JNU that I observed and got trained in conducting free and fair elections. The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) elections are designed and executed in such a way that money does not play any role, but unique ideas can. The JNUSU election campaigning includes a night long Presidential debate just before the elections, similar in style to the one held during the presidential elections in the United States. The entire election process is managed by students.

All students associations, big or small, had equal rights and freedom to present their ideas and garner sympathizers. Festivals of all religions and ethnic groups were celebrated in hostels. Students from the North East regularly joined together for their prayer fellowships. Catholics had occasional Mass in the famous Parthasarathy Rock. During the entire Ramzan, special food was given in the mess before sunrise to all Muslim students who were fasting. Non-believers could speak their mind with their logic and rationality. Everyone learned from each other. None tried to suppress the views of the other.

Feathers in the cap

Following are some of the feathers in the cap of this great institution of excellence:

NAAC has accredited JNU with the award of Grade 'A' and CGPA of 3.91/4.00, the highest in the country.
It produces around 600 doctorate holders every year which is one of the highest in the country.
More than 80 per cent of JNU students get fellowships/ scholarships from various sources based on their merits and means.
There is an excellent teacher-student ratio of 1:10.
The campus is spread over 1000 acre and the beautiful greenery is maintained well.
There was no violence within the campus in its entire history
The University admits students through an entrance examination which can be taken at 70 Centres in various parts of the country and at one Centre outside India, i.e. Kathmandu, Nepal.
Its students are shouldering important responsibilities across the globe as social scientists, scientists, civil servants, literary critics, media experts, foreign language experts, journalists, political leaders, social activists, technologists, and entrepreneurs.

Following are some of the quotes of a few past students of JNU (given on earlier occasions)

“JNU most certainly provided me the best opportunity to participate in all sorts of debates and to think in a different way. I must say that JNUites do things differently, wherever they are and that's how they stand out.” Nirmala Sitharaman, BJP Leader and Hon Minister of state (Independent charge) for Commerce and Industry, Govt of India.
“On leaving JNU, the students confront the reality that there is no fraternity in citizenship and all the other ills of society, like the power of capital in politics. While some succumb to all this, JNU equips most to confront these challenges in a better fashion. I meet police officers, journalists and administrators from JNU who have carried forward the values they learnt here.”  Prakash Karat, (CPI(M) Leader and JNUSU President in 1973-74)
“The dining hall discourses, where everything from the Vietnam War to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was discussed, our professors had unconventional ways of teaching, they were passionate about making new minds, and they were not just there to teach in front of the blackboard and leave. Their sudden presence did not make you throw away your cigarette and they were politically active.” (Prof Anand Kumar, JNUSU President 1974-75)
“My initiation in public life, in fact my understanding of politics, dates back to my JNU days…. In JNU, I remember, those who spoke of caste were considered the most retrograde people.” (Yogendra Yadav, Former leader of AAP and noted Psephologist.)
“There are many changes taking place in the country and JNU cannot be removed from these but I still think that JNU is the best university in India and I am not saying this because I am from JNU. There are reasons for that, firstly it's a national university, It's a residential university; the teaching is direct and more practical rather than bookish, self study. (D P Tripathy, Member of Parliament)
Prominent JNUites include S Jayashankar, Foreign Secretary, Ali Zeidan, former Prime Minister of Libya, Aditya Jha, Canadian philanthropist, Ahmed bin Saif Al Nahyan, Founder and Chairman of Etihad Airlines, B Bhattarai, Prime Minister of Nepal, H R Khan,  former Deputy Governor of RBI, Amitabh Kant, Secretary to Govt of India, Arvind Gupta, Deputy National Security Advisor, Syed Asif Ibrahim, former Intelligence Bureau Chief, P Sainath, eminent journalist, Sitaram Yechury, Secretary General, CPI(M) and hundreds of bureaucrats, academicians and social activists.

The misusers and the deviants

Notwithstanding what I wrote above, let me share frankly a few plain truths. I am not here to vouch for all those who pursued or pursue courses in JNU as sincere learners and committed nationalists. There are three categories of misusers / deviants in JNU both then and now.

First category is the so called self- styled revolutionaries without a clear ideological lineage. There are a few pseudo radicals for whom state-bashing is a fashion and a passion. They spread seeds that harm the unity and integrity of the country. They hide within all the organizations in the university without exception. It could be within the ‘right’, the ‘left’, the ‘center’ or in the ‘extreme’ organization.

Second category is those who are not interested in completing the courses and dissertations on time. They waste the valuable resources provided to them, seek extensions to complete the courses, overstay in the hostels and that hamper fresh enrollments.

Third category is the ones who ignore the academic course work and dissertations totally in the name of preparations for the civil services and lose focus on both. They end up in depression when they don’t get to any career because of sheer laziness or avoidable diversions.

Regain the fame of JNU

“A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives. If the universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the Nation and the People” (Jawaharlal Nehru)
In order to fulfill above mission and vision, it is necessary to extend the ideological debates in the campus to actionable proposals with a spirit of collaboration than conflict. The first step in this is to be committed in their studies and utilize the resources given to them for productive purposes. Hollow ideologies can get instant applauses but they can’t bring long term solutions for the masses. Apart from ideological battles, let JNU students invent and design solutions through systematic studies and research in order to alleviate the miseries of the people and to bring in peace and prosperity within and outside the country. For this, apart from sloganeering, a little bit of empathy, a lot more social intelligence and commitment to studies are necessary!

        © Sibichen K Mathew      Views are personal


  1. Very nice post Sibi .
    Just want to share that I read that
    Rashmi Singh, former JNUSU president, who opposed the Left lobby in the JNU during her presidentship, observed: “The ugly incident which has completely exposed Left-leaning academics at the campus gives a very good opportunity to the government to do a complete overhaul of the JNU. It is an overrated institution which is quite poor in the actual standard of academic work. Why should the government spend big money on such an institution at the cost of other meritorious institutions?”
    Uday Mahurkar in the"
    The anti India sloganeering have made a dent on the image of JNU and it needs to dealt properly now .

  2. Democracy must be built on open debates and discussions.Why would a transparent government fear dissent?Youth is the age to question,to speak out to experience and experiment.JNU is the most open to thinking institution in our country,i think India should have a thousand JNUs and hundreds of Kanahyas questioned and rebeling for it to become a truly developed nation.

  3. Good post Sibi . in my opinion there should be allowed a no-holds -barred discussion on ANY topic in ANY University Campus ... let alone only JNU ! This is where a million Different flowers should be allowed to bloom .If one does thought -policing with the students it will definitely restrict their ability to think fearlessly and it will also mar the originality of their thoughts !

  4. Good that you wrote this at this time. People should know these things.

    The real problem is something else, I believe. It is about stifling the ideology prevailing on that campus because that ideology is a serious threat to the right wing fascist ideology.

  5. it takes ages to build respect and seconds to destroy. That's just what happened with JNU. Every Indian (associated / not associated with JNU) should make constructive efforts to re-build the good image of JNU and should not let this prestigious institute be brought down by anti-nationals / pseudo - radicals.


  6. Well thought through and a real eye opener...

  7. It should be allowed to have a debate and discussion on any topic in the Universiy to get to truth

  8. Looks like utopia. Looking forward to get admission in BA 2017-2018.


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