Those who have been to Kashmir might find a striking resemblance between the security outside the gates of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and the streets of the valley, where civilians are stopped questioned and asked to produce identity cards. But that's the scenario in the university campus in the national capital.
After Friday, when police arrested JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar – the first time a JNUSU president has been arrested since the Emergency - the usually open university gates are fortress-like. Visitors are asked to exit their vehicles, write their cell numbers, address, purpose of visit and even numbers of those whom they are planning to visit in the university.
If you don't know someone inside, you aren't allowed in. A posse of Delhi police personnel keenly supervises the entry process, a few of them carrying portable cameras that record visitors.
A standstill in the fortified campus
The university's administration block is at the centre of ongoing crisis. Students have organised protests on the stairs of the Vice-Chancellor's office where they sit through the day, occasionally chanting slogans seeking Kumar's release. Several delegations of teachers, students, non-teaching staff, politicians have visited the office so far.
"It's a design, a well-planned move to target JNU," Sachin (name changed), a JNU student who was part of the protest rally told ScoopWhoop. "A controversy is being used to paint all the Left as anti-national."
Megha (name changed), who says she's a "hardcore supporter" of freedom of expression and debate, acknowledges there's now a fear of consequences now in the university after Kumar's arrest.
"One doesn't need the lens of an expert to understand the situation. The way the state has come after JNU students smells more like revenge than standard action under law," she told ScoopWhoop, clearly stating that she wanted to remain anonymous.
"The Left-Right friction in a democracy is a constitutional virtue, but the recent controversy has for the first time put the Left in the dock to prove its credentials of nationalism and patriotism, even when it has clearly articulated that Left does not support certain controversial slogans raised at February 9 event," she said.
A friend of hers chipped in.
"Media fed live-feeds into television screens across the country are flashing only one part of the story i.e. anti-national slogans vowing to destroy India being raised in JNU. Another part of the story is JNU students' union officially denounced and condemned such kind of sloganeering, much before the controversy went this far," the student said, refusing to be quoted.
Many other students who are willing to talk to the media were restrained by friends. The uneasiness, students say, is the result of some media outlets blowing things out of proportion.
Not the first Afzal Guru-related event held in the university
This was not the first time an event was organized to protest the death penalty for Afzal Guru at JNU. But what has left almost everyone baffled is how the event turned into a fierce crackdown on students this year.
"We fail to understand how a small university event can involve Home Minister and Ministry of Human Resources and Development. The most bizarre fact is the way government has been trying to link the event with terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba," Nisha, a student in the university, told ScoopWhoop.
"We also heard that Delhi Police is mulling about transferring the sedition case against students to Special Cell or the National Investigation Agency," she said. "This is beyond absurdity."
So what now for JNU?
According to Abhishek, who has been in the university for 13 years, this is first time right wing has an "edge" over the Left.
"Though the Left has always been at the receiving end of state's crackdown in India, they have never been asked to prove their credentials of believing in Indian nationalism," Abhishek told ScoopWhoop. He declined to state his surname.
There's also hushed conversations within the student groups that the right wing's "assault" on dissent has finally reached the 'Mecca of the Left' in India.
On Sunday, scores of JNU students formed a human chain and raised slogans, demanding that sedition charges against varsity's students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar be dropped. The students were also joined by families of staff members residing on the campus.
"They are trying to enforce limits on us," one of the members in human chain said. "But JNU has never accepted diktats."
Feature image source: PTI