Guest Post by Pankhuri Zaheer
“I wanted to bring you something but I didn’t know what to get you so I got you a bottle of water,” says a friend who would perhaps never identify herself as a student activist but since 9th February, like many like her, has been an integral part of the stand with JNU movement.
19 of us have decided to sit on an indefinite hunger strike till the time the farcical report of the High Level Enquiry is not rolled backed in its entirety. Today, April 30th, is the third day of our hunger strike.
The common understanding is that neither the organizers nor the participants in the 9th February incident have done anything that was unbecoming of a University student and hence warranted a disciplinary action. Additionally, if at all an enquiry is required because of the ruckus created by the ABVP students, it should have been conducted by a committee that is inclusive and unbiased. The allegiances of the faculty members conducting the enquiry have been under question since its inception (Rakesh Bhatnagar, the person chairing the inquiry is also the fund collector of Youth for Equality- a quasi-right wing, anti reservation force). Repeatedly the students union and the teachers association have questioned the legitimacy of this committee. It should be noted that the committee submitted its ‘report’ on 11th March. And it is only now in the month of April, when most students in the campus are busy with final submissions and exams, the Vice Chancellor has decided to take action. Quite laughably, the administration thinks that by doing so they will be able to catch us unawares and carry out their nefarious plan. Clearly they are underestimating the collective strength of students and teachers and other concerned groups on campus. The punishments to the students range from hefty fines to rustication for various durations.
It must be mentioned that Mujeed Gattoo, a Kashmiri student who was marked by the administration from a video of the cultural protest has been targeted and rusticated for one whole year from the university. This strike is also against the witch hunting of Kashmiri and other minority students.
Indefinite hunger strike as mode of struggle has been seen with skepticism by some sections of the sympathizers of the movement. Concerns range from a decline in the militancy of the movement to the general health of the hunger strikers who have to sit outside the Administration Bloc building in this heat all day long without food. A comrade says we should have done gherao of the administration building and not let any official work happen. My mother says that the government is beraham and does not care if some students live or die. Perhaps all the concerns have some merit to them but it is the resolve of the 19 students that now that we have decided to go through with the hunger strike, we shall not step back till every clause of the HLEC report is withdrawn.
Interestingly, ABVP is striking too. In what seems to be an attempt by the HLEC to appear neutral in the eyes of outsiders, they have also fined Saurabh Sharma, JNUSU joint Secretary and ABVP member, who led the ABVP students on 9th February as they disrupted a peaceful cultural protest. Five members of ABVP including him are sitting next to us on an indefinite hunger strike with two demands- revocation of Saurab Sharma’s fine and much stricter punishments for the ‘anti-nationals’.
Hunger striking in the month of April in Delhi is a painful process. It becomes worse when you wake up to loud chanting of Om Namah Shivai and Gayatri Mantra followed by recordings of Hanuman Chalisa, Ma tujhe salaam and other choice songs from the playlist, coming from your right.
The Playlist reached its obnoxious best when ABVP students decided to disrupt the film screening of ‘Muzaffarnagar Baqi hai’ yesterday with loud Bollywood film songs. Lata Mangeshkar, AR Rehman and Lucky Ali rang out in an attempt to silence our determination to talk about organized Hindu right wing pogroms in the country. The screening was also done to assert that we will not tolerate intimidating moves by the administration like show cause notices to student activists for ‘participating in’ similar film screenings, as was done with Anirban and Umar recently. The slogan, after the screening saw over 300 students participating, being ‘tum kitne show cause bhejoge?’. The disgruntled ABVP students resorted to verbal provocation threatening to break our bones if we even dared to touch the speakers. While some of us got very angry, others immediately stepped up to avoid any unnecessary confrontation. The atmosphere was tense throughout the screening. With JNUSU deciding that it will continue holding events of solidarity at Ad bloc, this atmosphere of threat and violence is bound to remain.
Over the last three days many teachers from JNUTA have come to show support. Activists like Shabnam Hashmi and Harsh Mander have also come to show solidarity and to ask what more can be done in the city and in the country.
Students stop by on their way to class and exams and ask if we need anything, they gather again in the evening to sings songs with us, raise slogans and generally keep the spirits up.
The yearly May Day event where students and workers march together through the campus will culminate this year at the ad block rechristened as freedom square by the protestors where students will be addressed by mess, sanitation and other workers of the university.
I have been told that the Skavengers, a reggae band in the city which sings beautiful political songs will also come and perform tomorrow. Teachers and Civil rights activists will also soon join the struggle by sitting on day long relay hunger strikes.
We are a small part of the larger student stirring in the country. I don’t know what role we play or how important we are, but we all realize that it is crucial to keep fighting right now. The education system in the country cannot be left to the mercy of this right wing government. We must fight with all possible modes of struggle to reject not just the HLEC but also the casteist dictats of the HCU vice Chancellor, the fee hike and personal grooming courses for SC/ST students in IITs, the atrocious appointment of a Sangh worker as the Chairperson in FTII, the institutional gender insensitivity in Jadavpur and all other attacks in institutions of higher education in the country. If the almost three month long movement of Stand with JNU has taught us anything, it is that we are not alone. That it is possible to forge larger solidarities in the face of this fascist attack. That together we will fight and win. Ladhenge! Jeetenge!
Pankhuri Zaheer is a student of Womens’ Studies at Jawharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is one of the nineteen students currently on indefinite hunger strike in protest against the Higher Level Enquiry Committee (HLEC) measures against JNU students for the events of February 9, 2016