New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru University is staring at yet another face-off after the university administration suspended 12 students for allegedly disrupting an Academic Council meeting chaired by VC Jagadesh Kumar on December 26.

The suspended students – all of who belong to various minority groups like Dalits, OBCs and Muslims, SC and ST – have been accused of breaking opening the “latch of the meeting room after thumping the door” and shouting slogans at the “Chairperson and the Academic Council members.” 

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In a striking similarlity with the suspension and hostel eviction of five Dalit scholars in University of Hyderabad last year which culminated with the suicide of 26-year-old Rohith Vemula, the administration has also ordered a Proctorial enquiry in the incident and withdrawn their hostel facilities.

A long-term demand against discrimination

Considered to be one of the easy-to-get-into universities for students from marginalized backgrounds, the demand of minority deprivation points, less marks of viva-voce in admission and rejection of May 5 UGC notification has been a contentious tussle between the students and administration for years. 

On December 26, when the annual academic council meeting was going on at the campus, students from different minority groups held protests outside the meeting venue. Apart from their demand of reducing viva marks from 30 to 10, the students were also demanding rollback of fee hike. They also tried to submit a memorandum to the AC members, however they were told they can do so by submitting it through the students’ union representatives of JNUSU who were already present in the meeting.

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“Nobody listened to our demands. Not even the JNUSU. They also called our protest meaningless,” alleged Rahul Sonpimple, an activist from Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association and one of the 12 suspended students. 

According to an official JNU statement on December 26, “a group of unruly students broke open the latch of the meeting room after thumping the door, came inside and began to shout slogans at the Chairperson and the Academic Council members.”

However, the students have denied the charges and termed the university’s allegation as “wrong.” 

“The JNU statement clearly states that ‘the meeting at this time[after students came inside] was already over and necessary decisions had been taken by the Academic Council.’ How can they say we disrupted the meeting?” Sonpimple asked. 

Were the Academic Council meeting decisions unilateral? 

During the AC meeting, the university also adopted the 5th May 2016 UGC gazette notification on admission procedures for various academic programmes and courses. Under this notification, the students opting for M.Phil/Ph.D – who have not qualified eligibility tests like NET, SLET, and GATE courses – in higher educational institutions have to undergo a uniform two-step procedure i.e a student has to pass an entrance test with 50 per cent marks and then the successful candidate will be called in for viva-voce where “candidates are required to discuss their research interest/area through a presentation before a duly constituted Department Research Committee.” 

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Critics point out the notification doesn’t provide any relaxation to the deprived and disadvantaged students including the constitutionally recognized categories – thereby making them vulnerable to get disqualified at the first stage itself. 

However, a group of 20 JNU teachers who were present in the AC meeting said they were “shocked and dismayed” at the manner in which the Vice Chancellor conducted the 142nd Academic Council meeting. 

“One of the most alarming insertions to the minutes gave the Vice Chancellor powers to manipulate the list of experts for Selection Committees sent by the Centres and Schools. This had not been approved by the previous Academic Council meeting. However, the Vice Chancellor abruptly stopped the discussion on this item, refused to accept the removal of the wrongly inserted sentence, and declared the minutes passed,” a statement signed by the teachers read. 

The teachers also alleged that the May 5 UGC notification was not even discussed in the AC meeting.  

Anger not only against JNU administration but JNUSU too

Questioning the “quick suspension order” of 12 students without “any enquiry”, the suspended students said the university didn’t act such promptly in the case of ABVP students who beat up missing 27-year-old JNU student Najeeb Ahmad inside the hostel premises on the night of October 14-15. 

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“It’s a reflection on the part of administration. For them, the enemy is already known. They just need pretexts,” a Muslim student from the university told ScoopWhoop News.

The suspended students have also expressed their dissatisfaction with Left-dominated JNUSU and accused it of “compromising” on the demands of students, particularly those from Dalit, OBC and minority backgrounds. 

“JNUSU called a solidarity march without even discussing with us. We are not against their solidarity but we can’t tolerate their compromise with the JNU administration. We have got a moral ground,” Prashant Nihal, another suspended student told ScoopWhoop News.

The suspended students also rued the absence of JNUSU office bearers in the protest demonstration organized by the marginalized student groups. 

On Thursday, JNUSU led a ‘Social Justice March’ inside the campus. It had also given a call of protest demonstration on Friday to revoke the suspension of students.