Emergency Files: How the Students of JNU Fought the Emergency - Part 2

Indira Gandhi and Sajay Gandhi - the master brain and architects of 1977 national emergency

As students all across India are fighting the central government's nefarious attempts to curtail their political freedom, Bodhi Commons is republishing the Emergency Files, a series of pamphlets brought out by the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) in Jawaharlal Nehru University, during the period of the Emergency (1975-77). This is the second part of the series. The first part can be read here.

While one of the first steps of the JNU administration to clamp down on the democratic rights of the students during the Emergency was to clamp down on the Students Union, the new academic year of 1975-76 saw the JNU administration trying to impose an authoritarian "code of conduct" and striking off from the admission list the names of students whose political opinions were not liked by those in power. The parallel to what is happening today in campuses across the country, where the RSS-BJP-ABVP is trying to muscle out those belonging to student organisations opposed to the Hindutva forces, is surely not a coincidence.

The parallel to what is happening today in campuses across the country, where the RSS-BJP-ABVP is trying to muscle out those belonging to student organisations opposed to the Hindutva forces, is surely not a coincidence.

The students of JNU, of course, did not take all these lying down. The SFI, in its bulletin welcoming the new students to JNU, explained why the crackdown on the Union is dangerous, opposed the "code of conduct" and warned the administration against tampering with the admission procedure. The President of the JNU Students Union subsequently brought out a pamphlet informing the students that B. D. Nagchaudhuri, the Vice-Chancellor, had arbitrarily struck off the names of some students from the admission list. Another pamphlet from the Students Union gave out more details of this anti-student action by the administration and urged the students to resist this attack. Finally 'The Resistance', through a secretly circulated pamphlet, called upon students to boycott classes. Here we reproduce the SFI bulletin, the JNUSU President's pamphlet, excerpts from the detailed JNUSU pamphlet, the Class Boycott call by 'The Resistance' and a report on the strike.

It needs to be noted here that the admission policy of JNU, which the Unions of the time (the SFI having been the leading section in the Union from its founding in 1971) had fought for and won, was one which enabled students from poorer backgrounds and backward regions to enter JNU. Under this policy, weightages were given for students from deprived socio-economic backgrounds and those hailing from backward regions. Student-Faculty Committees (SFCs) were set up with elected students in each Centre (the departments in JNU are called Centres). The SFCs were empowered to scrutinise the entrance tests and finalise the results. The results of this democratic admission policy was seen in the 1973 admissions, when students from diverse backgrounds were able to enter JNU. Therefore it was no surprise that the administration tried to weaken the SFCs as the bulletin described.

Students’ Federation of India — Bulletin

“Welcome to JNU”

The new academic session has begun with a series of systematic and obviously planned manoeuvres attacking the democratic movement built over the last few years, and to curb the hard won rights of the student community. The first of these manoeuvres was the arbitrary declaration by the Vice-Chancellor, in the prospectus, that the membership to the Students Union is voluntary. The Students’ Union in our University, unlike those in many other universities, is fully independent of the administration. It was formed and has been sustained by the strong democratic student movement in the campus. The affairs of the Students Union — including elections — are managed entirely by the students, and the Students Union is responsible to the students and students alone. The Students Union membership is automatic to all bonafide students and compulsory (as per the agreement with the VC at the time of its formation) as it is the only independent forum which reflects and caters to the democratic interests of the students. To weaken the Students’ Union by making its membership voluntary is to weaken the democratic movement built up in this campus until now. The SFI condemns this act of the VC and shall strongly resist this move.

This move should not be seen as an isolated one. It is a continuation of the efforts of the VC to disrupt the democratic movement in the university. These attempts began with the so-called ‘Code of Conduct’ proposed by the Vice-Chancellor last year which was unanimously rejected with contempt by the General Body of students. The same ‘Code of Conduct’ we find has been printed and circulated this year titled ‘norms of behaviour’. The SFI shall resist this move which is yet another to weaken the democratic movement in the campus.

These attempts of the Vice-Chancellor have been followed up this year by blatant violations of the admission procedure as laid down by the Academic Council. There has been arbitrary intervention by the Vice-Chancellor in the functioning of the SFCs and we find that some names recommended by the SFCs have been arbitrarily struck off by the Vice-Chancellor. We wish to point out that the VC cannot reverse or nullify the procedure passed by the Academic Council and endorsed by the Executive Council. This we see as an attack on the academic freedom of the University and shall therefore resist it. We greet the stand taken by a considerable section of faculty in opposing this interference by the Vice-Chancellor. We, however, condemn that section which has objectively been playing the ‘rear guard’ of the authorities. It is interesting to note that those who ostensibly declare themselves as “dedicated to the students’ cause” have refrained from mentioning the attacks by the Vice-Chancellor on the democratic movement in the campus.

The SFI calls upon all democratic elements in the University to resist this two pronged attack of the VC, one against all traces of democratic functioning on the campus and the other on the Students’ Union.

LONG LIVE STUDENTS, TEACHERS AND KARAMCHARI UNITY
RESIST THESE ATTEMPTS BY THE VC & HIS COLLABORATORS
AND UNITE TO DEFEND YOUR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS

INDEPENDENCE DEMOCRACY SOCIALISM

(August 1975)

SFI (JNU UNIT)

A pamphlet by D.P. Tripathi, the President of the JNU Students Union, informed the students about the VC's arbitrary action.

Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union

August 7, 1977

Friends,

The Students’ Union wishes to inform the students of the University of the arbitrary action of the Vice-Chancellor in striking off names from the admission list which were recommended by various centres after evaluation. This is a blatant attack on the democratic rights of both the students and the teachers. The Students Union welcomes the stand taken by a considerable section of the faculty who are opposing this attack on academic freedom. Once again we reiterate that these anti-democratic acts will not be tolerated by the students of this University. As far as the admissions of students is concerned, we do not accept this interference and violation of the democratic procedure laid down by the Academic Council.

We will not allow the Vice-Chancellor to prevent the admissions of Students simply because they do not meet a certain criterion which is completely extra academic and apparently mysterious. We demand that the Vice-Chancellor should at least abide by his own statement that no section of the University community can infringe upon the democratic rights of any other section.

RESIST THIS ATTACK ON DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS
LONG LIVE STUDENT UNITY

— Devi Prasad Tripathi
President, JNUSU

The statement by the JNUSU President was confirmed by the declared results of the JNU entrance examination and viva voce. Several students who had excellent academic records found that their names had been struck off the admission lists due to their political opinions. The victimised students included the JNUSU President himself.

A pamphlet issued by the Students Union and signed by Ashok Lata Jain, who chaired the Students' Council meeting held on 19 August 1975, gave out more details.Here is an excerpt from the pamphlet:

The time has come for the students to strike against the measures taken by the Vice Chancellor to curb the democratic rights of teachers and students. Because of their political opinions, and despite their excellent academic performances, students have been victimised and denied, admission. The University authorities launched this attack beginning with the President of the Students' Union, Devi Prasad Tripathi.

Tripathi, a first class student throughout, coming from a backward area, as well as an economically deprived background, was not given admission to the M.Phil. programme. The Chairman of the Board, which interviewed JNU students of the Centre for Political Studies, is said to have stated prior to the written test and interview that Tripathi would be eliminated. The older students will remember that this same Tripathi came first in the list for the MA programme.

Two Student Councillors, Rajaram and Promod Kumar Misra, again both first class students were recommended for admission by their respective faculties, who found them academically competent, but were denied admission by the VC. The reason again was that they hold certain political opinions which differ from those of the Vice-Chancellor.

The pamphlet then listed out 11 students whose names had been struck off the list due to political reasons. It also said that the final admission lists were yet to be declared for M.Phil./Ph.D. programme in various centres of the School of Social Sciences, and that considering the trend, further victimisation can be expected. The pamphlet said that these attacks on academic freedom and anti-democratic acts must be fought.

But given the climate of repression, what form this fight will take, was to be detailed in a secret pamphlet brought out by 'The Resistance', which urged students to boycott classes on 22 August. Very few copies of the pamphlet were made, and the students circulated them so as to keep the plans secret from the authorities. The pamphlet is reproduced below.

Urgent: Read & Circulate

Boycott Classes in Protest: 22 August

Students who have qualified for admissions and approved by the Centres concerned have been struck off the lists by the Vice-Chancellor and the Registrar’s office. They have been passing on the lists to the police and Govt. for screening. By this action they hope to crush the Union and keep students who do not toe the official line, off the campus. The president of the Union, Tripathi has been denied admission in his own centre for M.Phil by giving him ridiculously low marks in the viva and test. Two of the Union Councillors, Rajaram and P.K. Mishra have had their admissions annulled by the VC in their own centres and in the School of International Studies, after they had qualified. Similar cases exist in other centres: History: Sujata Madhok; Social Systems: Rabindra Ray; School of Languages: Ramesh Dixit; School of International Studies: Mohan Ram.

By this the University has struck a blow at the students and teachers on the campus, making a mockery of the admission system so carefully worked out in the past. They have interfered with the rights of the “other components of the University”.

IN PROTEST ALL THE STUDENTS WILL BOYCOTT CLASSES, THE LIBRARY AND ALL ACADEMIC WORK ON THE CAMPUS ON 22 AUGUST, FRIDAY, TO EXPRESS THEIR PROTEST AGAINST THIS HEINOUS ACTION OF THE VC AND THE ADMINSITRATION.

We call upon the students to strictly observe the following:

  1. All non-residents should stay at home on 22 August.
  2. All residents should either stay in their hostels or go out of the campus for the day.
  3. Spread the word of the boycott to your friends individually and explain the reasons for this action.

 

We make an urgent appeal to the faculty to observe this boycott and cooperate by not taking classes in protest against the dictatorial step of the VC. Let this be a joint action.

 

UNITEDLY GO INTO THIS ACTION BOLDLY;
REBUFF ALL STTEMPTS TO SUPPRESS OUR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS.

— THE RESISTANCE

While the class boycott was a success and a sent a strong message, the suspension of Ashok Lata Jain made it clear that the government and the administration were not going to tolerate any challenge to their authoritarianism. But if oppression is the ruling classes' privilege, the students were absolutely clear in their conviction that to protest and fight back is not only their right, but also their duty as conscious citizens of a country which prided itself as a democratic republic. They were determined to fight on, even as they knew that more repression was awaiting them.

(To be continued)