This is the second part of a series of reports on Jawaharlal Nehru University (2016-2021) by the JNU Teachers’ Association.
Growing Concerns over Security on JNU Campus
This statement, the second in the series brought out by JNUTA, focuses on the unprecedented deterioration of security issues on campus over the last five years. The word ‘unprecedented is consciously used because never have residents which includes faculty, students and non-teaching staff of the university felt so vulnerable and unsafe inside their 1000 acre campus. For a residential university like JNU, security on campus is a very important concern. However, as in other matters, in this area too, the responses of the university administration has been lax and has failed miserably in ensuring that residents feel secure and less vulnerable on campus.
Enumerated below are some of the serious events that have taken place on campus over the last five years, that have put a big question mark on the Vice Chancellor’s capabilities to effectively manage and deliver on this issue.
9th February 2016 and its aftermath
Almost a few days after Prof. Jagadesh Kumar’s took over as the Vice Chancellor of JNU, the campus witnessed one of the most vicious campaigns launched against the university. Through a well orchestrated attack launched by the ruling powers that be, JNU was demonised both within and outside the Parliament, across media channels with a narrative that sought to wipe out its history and standing in the academic world, by dubbing it as the “ den of anti-nationals.” Mobs were unleashed on JNU students and faculty within the precincts of hallowed courts of law, where students were to be heard. The university administration did little to dispel the manufactured ‘nationalist’ paranoia around JNU. It was almost as if a chain of events were set in motion to destroy the university.
Mob invasion of campus and death threats to campus residents on the night of February 12th 2016
Immediately following the 9th February incident, a mob of around 300, mainly outsiders invaded and marched militia style into the campus following a route through residential quarters, shouting slogans, baying for the blood of “anti-nationals” and issuing death threats to faculty members. Complaints were made to the university administration by the faculty, with video evidence, but the university administration under the Vice Chancellor, chose not to conduct any enquiries on the matter, which clearly indicates a degree of complicity.
Disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed, a student from Campus
The mysterious disappearance of Najeeb from campus in October 2016, is another incident that continues to haunt the collective conscience of JNUites even today. Despite multiple eye witness accounts of Najeeb being beaten in the precincts of the Mahi Mandavi hostel, the administration blamed him for the violence. As per the administration’s narrative he was the “accused.” His assailants were let off with no major punishments. To this day, four years later, the JNU community has still not come to terms with the fact that a young man, who had only just joined the university was lost to the world on account of the partisan politics patronised and encouraged by non other than the Vice Chancellor. His family had repeatedly called out the JNU administration for Najeeb’s character assassination and dearth of support to the investigation, which only exposes the Vice Chancellor’s toxic partisanship and lack of basic human sensitivities.
Non-Action on Threats issued and Assaults on Women Faculty
Specific complaints were made to the Vice Chancellor by women faculty who had received written threats over email as well as physical stalking over a period of one year during 2017-18. The administration did nothing about the complaints even though the identity of the person was made known to them by the complainants. The threats issued to them related to the fact that these women faculty were conducting a number of important enquiries on GSCASH related cases. In a deeply suspicious manner, the stalker was granted a scholarship to proceed abroad, just a couple of months after a formal complaint was lodged with the university authorities against the person concerned.
Similarly when the Associate Dean of Students, a woman faculty was surrounded for over 30 hours by students protesting against the illegitimate decision to raise hostel charges in November 2019, the Vice Chancellor even abandoned those faculty members he had appointed to administrative positions to face the agitated students on their own. Instead of leading from the front to resolve the impasse, his inaction only contributed to creating a sense of insecurity among them.
Reports of physical injuries borne by multiple women faculty targeted by an armed mob on January 5, 2020, that had shocked the JNU community and was reported worldwide, were too ignored by the administration. It is a shame that instead of reaching out to those grievously hurt, the Vice Chancellor instead, sought to divert the narrative by building a wall of opacity. painting himself as a victim. This attitude in fact has been a hallmark of his administration.
The complete collapse of the institutional mechanism to deal with sexual harassment is visible in the fact that instead of moving the Internal Complaints Committee that the administration put in place in 2017, complainants have instead chosen to approach the Police and the Courts directly. No report of the working of the ICC since it replaced the GSCASH is to be found on the University’s website, even though preparation of annual status reports is mandatory. What was also sinister was that the newly appointed ICC used the services of staff against whom there were pending complaints, to handle sensitive documents, in a complete violation of sexual harassment policies.
Mob Assault on Students and Faculty on 5 January 2020
The university administration it may be said under Prof. Jagadesh Kumar has mastered the art of using the private agency in charge of security on campus for harassing both teachers and students. The biggest example of this was the January 5, 2020, attack where JNU administration turned a blind eye and did not lift a finger to stop the attack by the armed mob that had come into the campus from outside. The mob did not spare the peace assembly called by JNUTA at the T point or the New Transit House, a group of faculty residences housing families with young children. The rampage that lasted for more than a hour and a half caused grievous injuries to both students and faculty. It is on the record, that despite several phone calls made to JNU security and the police by students, faculty and their family members, the Vice Chancellor chose to remain silent and did not allow the police to enter the campus until the “invited goons” were rescued out of the campus by JNU security. Media cameras at the JNU main gate captured the masked attackers being marched out in single file by the Delhi Police late that night. The Vice Chancellor also failed to provide assurance of security to the injured on their return to campus after hospitalization or provide professional counselling to allay the trauma experienced by the JNU community.
A whole year has passed and the administration has taken advantage of the Pandemic to brush the entire matter under the carpet. The internal enquiry that it had constituted was reportedly folded up when the Delhi Police constituted a SIT investigation. It is another matter, that this was not the case in 2016. Despite proceedings on sedition charges against students going on in court, the administration had conducted a parallel enquiry and instituted a High Level Committee which submitted its report.
Securitisation of Campus
The response of the university administration to the above security challenges have been totally one sided. Iron grills have been put up all across the administrative block, to stop free passage of students and faculty into the building. Following events in 2016, a 100 metre rule was introduced by the administration that forbid students from organising protests at the administration block and in and around academic buildings. CCTV cameras were installed in office blocks where senior members of the university administration sat. The rest of the campus stood and stands more or less ignored. Take the case of street lighting. Apart from the brightly lit path leading from the administrative block down to the Vice Chancellor’s house, no other streets on campus are as brightly lit as these.
The huge increase in the budget overheads for security over the last five years has been another major cause for concern. Security expenses increased from Rs 17.37 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 18.54 crore in 2018-19. For 2019-20, the security budget was Rs 15.34 crore. This dip in security expenditure in 2019-20 is however deceptive. For under the new agreement signed between JNU and Cyclops, the agency providing security services on campus, in 2019, the number of security personnel deployed on campus was cut back by half – which means the expenditure on security remained as much as before but with less manpower being employed.
Following the November 2019 and the subsequent January 5 attack on JNU, the non-performance of the security agency and department became an issue of even greater concern. No questions were allowed to be raised against Cyclops by the Vice Chancellor at the Executive Council meeting held after the incident. Neither the violence nor the unaccounted entry of outsiders on campus were taken up for investigation by the university administration. Recently on the completion of one year of the horrific violence, once again, the administration had no qualms in allowing the entry of huge number of outsiders to participate in a march organised on campus. This is extremely serious since it contravenes the administration’s own protocols of dealing with the Covid Pandemic, that it has chosen to cite to stop students from returning to campus back to their hostels.
Multiple Burglaries on Campus
While JNUTA has, in earlier statements highlighted the spate of burglaries on campus, a grainy CCTV video and accompanying statement berating security arrangements in JNU has recently been put out into the public domain by none other than a JNU Academic Council member, Prof Umesh Kadam. This follows a burglary in his residence on campus on 11January 2021.and a subsequent, invasive and ham-handed investigative effort by Cyclops. In the period of lockdown alone there have been 12 faculty houses that have been robbed.
Multiple complaints have come in, from a wide spectrum of JNU community members, detailing inappropriate conduct of security personnel employed by Cyclops. This though is not limited to just this security service, in the past as well, the Vice Chancellor has refused to admonish erring security service members and has often used them to intimidate faculty members to settle personal scores. So much so that before statutory body meetings moved online, the Vice Chancellor routinely used the university security services to create an atmosphere of fear by deploying a vast number of security personnel to ensure that even legitimate members of the Academic Council were unable to voice their concerns by creating a physical barrier to disallow papers of importance to be tabled before the committees.
Enumerated above are just some of the serious incidents that the Vice Chancellor either enflamed through his ill thought actions or else sought to play down when it suited his mindset. As the term of the Vice Chancellor nears its ignominious end and members of his own administration start pointing out fault-lines in his capabilities by going public with their complaints, there is no escaping the fact that it is not just a ‘small group of teachers and students’ as often suggested by him, who are unhappy with his regime but a broad spectrum of JNU community members and the academic community at large that finds his tenure deeply discordant and one inimical to higher learning.