ICAWPI

International Campaign Against War on the People in India

 

Stop all attacks against the people!

 

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Statements

Comdemn the Repression of Students Against War at JNU

Please sign and return this statement to ICAWPI.  And see the Background Note, after the statement, below:

To The Vice Chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

We are shocked to note the continuing prohibition on the activities of the JNU Forum against War on People by your administration. It has been almost six months since the ‘restraint order’ has been imposed on the JNU Forum allegedly for violating the State Emblem of India Act (Prohibition of Improper Use) 2005, pending a Proctorial Enquiry. As a result, the fundamental rights entitled to any students’ body –freedom of expression and right to political dissent, among others – have been denied in a highly arbitrary manner. The facilities entitled to the campus community, such as the venue for holding public meetings and other programmes of socio-political significance are also being withheld from the JNU Forum since May this year. In addition, we have come to know of the disciplinary action initiated by your administration against individual Forum members including imposition of fines on two students for the ‘crime’ of organising public meetings. This is tantamount to proscribing / banning of the JNU Forum.

The image which the JNU administration finds ‘objectionable’ is widely available in the public domain. The image is an artistically conceived political expression of the Indian State bringing down its jackboot on the people. The Forum used it in the purpose of campaign for a public meeting organised on 5 March 2011 to oppose Operation Green Hunt and Indian state’s onslaught on the people. The meeting was addressed by noted writer Arundhati Roy, well-known economist Prof. Amit Bhaduri, the Emeritus Professor of the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU, and with 600 students in attendance. This meeting was a part of many programmes the JNU Forum has been organising from its inception to oppose Operation Green Hunt.

A university as acclaimed as JNU should and must have the space to discuss, debate and deliberate on all important issues of socio-economic and political significance. It is this democratic culture which the university is known for. You being a former faculty of this prestigious university we are sure that more than anyone else, you will understand how important such spaces are in shaping the intellectual curiosity and sensibilities of one and all that are part of such campuses. In this context, irrespective of our agreement or disagreement with the JNU Forum’s political views, we feel that it is uncalled for and unilateral on the part of JNU administration to interpret the use of a publicly available image as a supposed violation of legal provisions.

We are therefore of the opinion that your administration’s action is an infringement of student’s democratic and political rights. It is the curtailment both of student’s freedom to hold and convey their political views, freedom of expression and right to dissent. Further, it is in campuses like JNU that one nurtures the culture of critical thinking and scientific temperament with social responsibility, wherein the educative role of such political activities becomes crucial. The ‘restraint’ order and the subsequent Proctorial Enquiry are totally against the widely known and acclaimed democratic culture of the JNU campus.

Needless to say, JNU community as well the as progressive and democratic sections from outside the campus have responded to this administrative crackdown with widespread indignation and protest. But the JNU administration has not shown any willingness so far to withdraw any of the draconian measures targeted against the Forum. The JNU Forum has therefore undertaken an indefinite hunger strike demanding the revocation of the ‘restraint’ order, scrapping of the Proctorial Enquiry and withdrawal of fines on the two Forum members. We, the undersigned, express our solidarity with the protesting students and call upon you to accept their demands without delay. Your urgent and immediate intervention is expected keeping in mind the deteriorating health conditions of the students undertaking the indefinite hunger strike.

 

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BACKGROUND NOTE

JNU Forum against War on People was formed in 2009 by the students and students’ organisations of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to oppose Operation Green Hunt, Indian state’s undeclared war on the people of central and eastern India. The main aim of the Forum was to inform the students and teachers of JNU about this ongoing extermination campaign and state repression, to highlight the heroic resistance put up by the oppressed masses, and to mobilise the campus community in order to build up a collective voice of protest. The students have responded overwhelmingly to the formation of the Forum as well as the political programmes organised by it. Through a series of public meetings, protest demonstrations, cultural programmes, film screenings, signature campaigns, pamphlets and posters, etc., the Forum have been able to create a strong public opinion in JNU in the last two years against Operation Green Hunt and state repression. Communal-fascist Hindu right-wing students’ organisations such as ABVP and NSUI have repeatedly attacked the Forum and its programmes, such as the attempted vandalisation of ‘An Evening of Cultural Protest’ on 9 April 2010, and by forging a short-lived platform called ‘Students against Naxalism’. But the Forum has successfully withstood and fought back these assaults. After the massive students’ protest against the visit of Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram to JNU on 4 June 2010, when the main architect of Operation Green Hunt was confronted with black flags and slogans, JNU administration too has been on the lookout for the opportunity to suppress the Forum.

The Forum organised a public meeting on 5 May 2011 on the theme ‘Operation Green Hunt: Unmasking the Reality of Democracy and Development.’ The meeting was addressed by noted writer Arundhati Roy and Prof. Amit Bhaduri of JNU with more than 600 students in attendance in Koyna hostel, which unmasked the fact that there is no democracy and freedom of expression or political dissent for those who oppose the repressive policies of the Indian state. A handful of members from the communal-fascist ABVP tried to disrupt the meeting, but failed miserably due to the resistance of the students present. Being unsuccessful in stalling the meeting, the ABVP subsequently came up with another scheme to target the Forum. They lodged a complaint with the administration that the Forum has violated the State Emblem Act by using an image in its propaganda material for the meeting. This is an artist’s impression of Indian state crushing the people of the country under the heels of its jackboot (see the attached image).This image is readily available in the internet and other public domains. This artistic expression has been widely used all over the country to depict the use of brutal force by the armed forces of Indian state against the people resisting Operation Green Hunt.

Though there is nothing ‘objectionable’ to the use of this image, by acting promptly on ABVP’s complaint, JNU administration issued two Circulars on 19 May 2011. The first Circular stated that

An organization named “JNU Forum Against War on People” has in the recent past, issued and distributed an anonymous leaflet containing objectionable depiction of the State Emblem in campus. It violated Sections 3 and 7 of State Emblem of India Act (Prohibition of Improper Use), 2005. A Proctorial Enquiry is underway to establish the identity of students associated with the creation and release of the said leaflet. It is urged that any information, in regard to the identity of the involved students may be submitted in writing to the office of the undersigned by 31.05.2011. No public meeting or any other activity of this organization will be permitted inside the JNU Campus during the pendency of the Proctorial Enquiry.

Thus, even before the Proctorial Enquiry was completed, the administration found the Forum ‘guilty’ of violating the State Emblem Act. The purpose of the enquiry therefore was not to establish the ‘guilt’ or otherwise, but in fact to identify and punish the Forum members. The students of the campus were also asked by the administration to act as informants and to spy on their fellow students to help it in its witch-hunt. In the pretext of the so-called enquiry, all activities of the Forum were prohibited by the administration through this circular, effectively putting a ban on the organisation. The second Circular prohibited the production and distribution of any literature by the Forum in the campus. It stated,

This [Chief Proctor’s] office is seized with the enquiry related to the derogatory depiction of the state emblem of India in an anonymous leaflet issued and distributed by “JNU Forum against War on People”. It has been observed that some organizations are issuing unsigned printed material that sometimes contain objectionable text, pictures, photos, etc. In order to curb this activity, it is proposed that the shopkeepers running photocopy shops inside JNU campus to be directed that they should not make multiple copies of such material under any circumstance.

Such a clamp-down on the students is unprecedented in JNU, and is in total contravention of the democratic culture of the campus, built through decades of struggles. The challenge in front of the student community in general and the Forum in particular was therefore not only to continue the opposition to Green Hunt, but also to defend the democratic space, freedom of expression and our collective right to dissent – the very aspects JNU is known for. Rather than being cowed down by these draconian Circulars or the witch-hunt in the name of Proctorial Enquiry, the JNU Forum immediately launched a campaign to force the administration to withdraw its authoritarian measures. A campus-wide signature campaign was launched among students and teachers to make these demands, and the response was overwhelming. More than two thousand students submitted their demands to the administration to take back their gag-order on the Forum. Around fifty teachers wrote to the Vice Chancellors making the same demand. An online signature campaign was launched, which was signed by more than seven hundred individuals.

Defying the ‘restraint’ order, the Forum continued to bring out posters and pamphlets, organised protest demonstrations and also a protest public meeting on 10 June 2011. It was addressed by teachers from JNU and Delhi University at the JNU Students’ Union office, because all other venues entitled to the Forum was denied by the administration. To prevent the meeting from taking place, the administration locked-up the Students’ Union office, another unprecedented step in the university’s four decade’s history. The administration made the new rule that from now on prior permission had to be sought by the students for using the Union office! But this move was met with a strong resistance, and the administration was forced to open the Union office under locks, and also to withdraw this new rule, which was an affront to the student movement of the campus.

The administration was also propagating the lie that the JNU Forum was a nameless-faceless organisation of amorphous members who do not take responsibility for their actions and statements, and works in a clandestine manner. In protest against such malicious propaganda, fifty students owned responsibility for the actions and politics of the Forum, including the use of the above-mentioned image, and submitted their names to the administration as responsible Forum members. The administration however has shown no willingness to resolve the issue through dialogue and discussions with the Forum, but have used the pretext of the Proctorial Enquiry to prolong the ‘restraint’/ban on the organisation till date. Indeed, individual Forum members have been targeted by the administration for associating with political activities, served show-cause notices and two of them have been imposed fines in October this year for organising public meetings at the Students’ Union office. Even after five months have passed since the issuing of the Circulars and the beginning of the Enquiry, there has been no outcome. In the several rounds of discussions that the Forum had with the administration, the latter has put the blame of ‘non-cooperation’ on the Forum! The administration has also said that if the Forum tenders an apology for using the said image and gives an undertaking to the effect of not repeating such a ‘mistake’ in the future, it is willing to reconsider the prohibitions on the Forum. The administration also admitted that there is pressure from the Government of India to take ‘disciplinary action’ against the Forum.

The Forum has categorically declined to tender any apology or give any undertaking, and have instead decided to intensify the struggle for the withdrawal of the administration’s draconian measures. On 2 November a protest demonstration was organised by the Forum, but the administration did not show any sign of addressing our just demands. In this situation, the Forum has decided to start an indefinite hunger strike at the office of the JNU administration to press for our demands. The indefinite hunger strike began on the night of 3 November after a protest march and is undertaken by five students, accompanied by many others who are on relay hunger strike which is started simultaneously. The strike will not be withdrawn until the demands of the Forum are met by the administration. JNU Forum against War on People appeals to you to stand in solidarity with our struggle and to contribute in whatever way you can for its successful culmination.