Guest Post by Shehla Rashid.
Video and Photo Inputs from Naushad MK, Samim Asgor Ali and Amit Kumar
[ This post was written shortly after JNU students gathered in front of Vasant Vihar Police Station to articulate their concern and anger at the lax attitude taken so far by the Delhi Police and other concerned authorities in relation to the disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed almost two weeks ago. In this text, (originally uploaded as a note on Facebook and then sent to us to be posted at Kafila) Shehla Rashid, thinks aloud about what has happened so far and looks ahead at the possible way forward for the students of JNU and their supporters to focus on making sure that Najeeb Ahmed, wherever he is, returns safe and sound to the JNU campus. We hope that it will be widely read, and discussed to evolve strategies for the evolving future of the campaign to give justice to Najeeb. Kafila]
Shehla Rashid and Others Being Confronted by Delhi Police at the Vasant Vihar Chakka Jam on Oc. 26, 2016
First of all, I’d like to express my gratitude to all the students who joined the Chakka Jam at Vasant Vihar police station, where the ACP refused to even accept the paper with our demands and, instead, ordered a lathi-charge on us. Students marched as one and stayed together till the end, despite all differences, for one goal- justice for Najeeb, and his safe return to campus life. I salute this spirit of JNU students. Having said that, I must say that we need to do more. Students need to come out in even greater numbers, as the attack on us is of immense magnitude.
There is a month-old Union which has been under criticism for its handling of the situation, and understandably so. I respect the concerns of those students who have expressed their disagreement with either the gherao or the lifting of the gherao. I personally feel that the gherao was a great idea, and the callous JNU administration deserves no less. During our tenure, this shameless VC wouldn’t even meet us. We had to struggle to meet him. The gherao was an important step in bringing him and his cronies to the table. I agree with the students who argue that the manner in which the decision to lift the gherao was taken and communicated, was undemocratic. I think that the Academic Council could have been brought to a halt, as happened at the time of the HLEC. Those who made noise when the AC meeting was brought to a halt over HLEC, might have made noise this time too, asking Najeeb’s caste, etc. But we could have dealt with that.
I agree with those students who are of the opinion that the gherao gave the VC a chance to claim victimhood and limelight. But once the call for gherao was taken, I also agree that the decision to discontinue should have been taken democratically. JNUTA’s stubborn insistence on ending the gherao was a bit too much, I feel.
We really need the teachers on our side, and I hope JNUTA realises the gravity of this situation. However, if JNUTA comes in solidarity with JNUSU, it must play the role of a friend, and not impose its feeling on students. If the campus can shut down for Kanhaiya Kumar, it can also shut down for Najeeb Ahmed- after all, during the Stand With JNU movement, people like me defended JNU saying that it is a non-discriminatory space; let’s prove that now.
Both JNUSU & JNUTA have a lot to learn from this movement, and this unprecedented calamity. I hope that we will sort out these tensions soon. JNUSU must take all suggestions with humility. People need their elected representatives to listen to them; that’s what makes JNU JNU.
It is these differences that have created confusion among students, along with ABVP’s usual manipulation of facts during movements, and this has resulted in a low turnout in protest marches, etc. However, it is my humble and sincere appeal to students to not lose their unity and keep standing as one. Our unity will force the leaders to unite. Our courage will give the leaders courage. Our courage might give Najeeb courage- if he can see all this.
In Feb, 2016, when the vicious Modi govt was out to implicate student activists in false cases, it was YOU- the common students of JNU- who gave us strength to stand at Freedom Square and fight back the fear. Today, that fear needs to be countered again. Najeeb was terrorised. He was assaulted 4 times in front of wardens, security staff and other students by an ABVP group that kept abusing him in communal, hateful terms. We need to fight the fear, so that he may return if he is in any position to do so; so that the witnesses in the case are not harassed and threatened, so that Mahi Mandvi does not become a state of exception where principles of natural justice do not apply.
Yes, he was abused as a Muslim- he was called ‘katua’ and threatened to be sent to ’72 virgins’. However, this is not a Muslim-only issue, as Najeeb’s sister asserted at Ad Block. All of us are on their target. In AMU, it was Junaid; in HCU, it was Rohith Vemula and others; in BHU, it was Roshan Pandey and others; in DU, it is Pinjra Tod girls; in Tripura University, it was Koushik Das; and so on. The names may vary, but the enemy is common- let’s stand united to throw out Sanghi lumpenism from campuses.
The Sangh terror network is an expert at turning the victims into the “accused”- as was Akhlaq’s family, Rohith’s mother, and now Najeeb. They shield the oppressors and implicate the victims.
We have to pay attention to what our University is being turned into. Recent events signal a breakdown of campus community life. The fact that our friend, Chiru, lay dead in his room for 3 days shows the breakdown of community life. To further perpetrate this alienation, this Sanghi VC stopped the senior students from doing admission assistance this year. This was deliberate. The VC, and the Director of Admissions- Milap Punia- knew exactly what they were doing, by not even allowing JNUSU to enter the Convention Centre where the admissions were held. This has increased the isolation of students like Najeeb, who are shy and introverted; and emboldened bullies of the ruling party, like Vikrant, Sunil, Ankit & others. Over the past few years, JNUSU has successfully argued that single-seater rooms should be present in all hostels. Despite being passed, this rule is not being implemented by the DoS. The previous Unions made exactly this argument- if senior students stay in all hostels, conflicts can be reduced. The fact that Mahi Mandvi hostel does not have a single-seater floor is a living example of this.
Then, we have the surveillance raj. When we were protesting outside VC’s residence, Mr. Suraj Prakash was making videos of us from across the gate– Suraj Prakash, the security assistant who brutally assaulted a guard, B. S. Singh, recently and who enjoys close company of the VC!! Where were the cameras when Najeeb was being assaulted in security presence? Where were the cameras when Suraj Prakash was beating up B.S. Singh, along with another hired goon of the VC- Pravin Kumar? Total impunity for ABVP goons; total impunity for VC’s favorite goons in the top ranks of the “security”. But the dedicated, honest and gentle students like Rama Naga get fined for Rs. 5,000 for simply calling a music band to perform at Admin Block on May Day! They are the soft targets of the administration. They are repeatedly fined, because they are so gentle that they cannot harm a fly.
JNU VC and his close associates are turning JNU into a place where justice is far-fetched and impunity is rampant, where the weak and vulnerable are terrorised while the lumpens run the show. This is not the JNU we know! However, their time is limited.
The Modi government will go in 2019- or before, I hope- and so will the chamchas. The Sanghi VC will go. But JNU will remain. JNU has to remain. And we have to stand our ground till then.
We may be faced with any news- good or bad- any moment from now on. This movement is bound together by hope and unity. I don’t think that the family of Najeeb will be able to fight alone, even though they are putting up a brave face- perhaps because of our vibrant movement.
We really need to get together and break the normalcy. Lets turn every platform into spaces where the ‘normalcy’ can be broken. Lets transform hostel freshers’ parties into vigils for a missing fresher, Najeeb. Let us refuse to attend talks over which the VC or the Rector presides until Najeeb is found. Lets wear black armbands to classes and ask our teachers to address the issue of his disappearance in class before they start their lecture. Let us all take turns to talk about him in class. Let us put up a continuous vigil at the Ad Block. Let us stay firm, especially with the students in SBT who are Najeeb’s classmates. Let us flood the VC’s mailbox with postcards asking where Najeeb is. Let us do twitter-gheraos of him every time he tweets any nonsense. Lets turn Diwali into an all night candle-light vigil/wait for Najeeb on campus. Lets break the illusion of normalcy.
Let us offer constructive support to the office bearers of JNUSU, who are acting under tremendous pressure. As a former JNUSU office bearer, I am sure I can recount occasions where I might have taken decisions that I can now recall as mistaken. But my friends and comrades always were alert and kept me on my toes with the kind of criticism that is the best proof of friendship and solidarity. Let us extend that spirit to our current JNUSU office bearers. Let us encourage them to be steadfast and courageous, and point out alternative courses of action in a constructive manner if and when things slip. Let us never forget that their strengths and weaknesses are only an echo of all our strengths and weaknesses. If we stay together, I believe we will find a way to make the world around us sit up and listen to our pain, and take cognizance of our hope.
Our demands are simple. The VC, for once, has to listen to us – we are asking him to do the following:-
- Restrain the ABVP mob that nearly lynched Najeeb. Issue a restraining order, pending enquiry that the students who attacked Najeeb must maintain their distance from Najeeb, if and when he returns. This may require them to be out-of-bounds from Mahi Mandvi hostel.
- If the attackers are indeed found guilty. Take strict disciplinary action.
- Create a safe atmosphere for our friend Najeeb to return.
- Take cognizance of hate speech, especially against dalits and minority community students, Northeast students, and students of the LGBTQ community on campus. (example: dossier)
- Issue an unambiguous appeal and a noticeable advertisement for Najeeb’s return.
- Be sensitive to Najeeb’s family and friends.
- Use your capacity as JNU VC & UGC member, but most of all, as a TEACHER, to get the government and the police to act and #BringNajeebBack.
If the VC doesn’t do all this, he deserves no respect from us. If the situation does not improve, then after due consultation with the student body, I believe that we should make ourselves ready for intensifying our struggle and campaign. We all need to think creatively, and imaginatively, and with respect towards Najeeb and his family, about what steps to take, as and when the situation turns.
Lets all stay vigilant, lets all keep thinking, lets stay together and not bicker amongst ourselves. Let’s set an example of how the JNU student body cares for each and every student.
If you’ve read this far, I really thank you, and hope that you’ll boycott all academic engagements tomorrow afternoon and march together to Delhi Police Headquarters to seek answers from the Delhi Police Commissioner about Najeeb’s case.
JNUSU has called for a protest demo tomorrow at 3 pm at ITO, marking 2 weeks of Najeeb’s disappearance/kidnapping. Let’s join this in large numbers- if not for anything else, for Najeeb, for Najeeb’s wailing mother, for Najeeb’s brave sister, for yourself, for JNU.
We need everyone and we need everyone now.
#SaveJNU all over again. #StandWithJNU #StandWithNajeeb
Shehla Rashid is a student activist with AISA and PhD student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.