New Delhi: Anirban Bhattacharya rusticated for 5 years; Umar Khalid for one semester and fined Rs 20,000; former JNUSU president Ashutosh Kumar removed from hostel for one year and fined; current JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar fined Rs 10,000. They, along with many others have been punished by the Jawaharlal Nehru University administration for their alleged involvement in raising anti-national slogans inside the campus on a 9 February event.

While the students have apparently rejected the punishment imposed on them by a high-level inquiry committee, the decision has led to its questioning as many feel it’s too harsh and disproportionate for the ‘crime committed’. And also, whether it’s in sync with JNU’s tradition of giving rights to its students to critique the system?

Though the opinions are divided; tilt is more on the side of the students.

A file photo of JNU students Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and Kanhaiya Kumar. PTIA file photo of JNU students Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and Kanhaiya Kumar. PTI

A file photo of JNU students Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and Kanhaiya Kumar. PTI

Former noted professor of economics at JNU Arun Kumar said, “It has never been as harsh as this time. The flavour of JNU is missing. The whole purpose of JNU is to critique knowledge. It seems like the administration has either got orders from ‘the top’ to take stern action or probably they have been trying to be more loyal than the king. May be they want to set an example by punishing the students, that includes the student leadership as well. The message that they want to give is tow our line or face consequences.”

“By browbeating the JNU student leadership, the administration has set a bad precedence. And moreover, the case is in court and allegations against the students have not yet been proved conclusively. Those who actually raised anti-national slogans are out of bounds. There is nothing new about students being vocal, but that doesn’t mean that attempts should be made to curb the culture of debate and discussion. No one at JNU gets into physical violence. Healthy politics is better than goondagardi,” added Prof Kumar.

In the history of JNU, this is the second such incident of its kind after the 1983 one. According to some faculty and staff members, who are also JNU alumni, 33 years ago there had been a massive violence on campus – the then vice chancellor was surrounded, his residence was forcibly occupied and that created a havoc. As a result, large-scale arrests were made and students were sent to Tihar Jail.

Mentioning the turn of events as a “very sad one”, TK Oommen, professor emeritus remarked, “It’s too harsh a punishment for verbal or symbolic violence. No physical violence or assault took place in the real sense. The punishment pronounced by the committee reflects the immature way of handling the entire episode. Moreover, at present the establishment at JNU and the government seem to harbor a different view, unlike in the past.”

Prof CSR Murthy, member, executive council of JNU, would have been happy if the students would have responded to the high-level inquiry committee’s call and had presented their side of the story.

“Personally, I feel extremely sad over the entire episode and the way the students have been reprimanded. The process of natural justice could not be followed as the students didn’t appear and present their side. Today, the middle ground and voice of moderation have been lost. From student related issues on campus, it has converted into a larger political issue. It seems both JNU vice chancellor and administration on one hand and students on the other have lost control. Everything seems to be dictated by external forces,” said Prof Murthy, a JNU alumnus and member of JNU teachers’ association.

However, there are academicians who feel that lawlessness inside the campus should not be tolerated, especially talks of dividing the nation, separatism and hailing terrorists.

“Student politics is different to raising anti-national slogans inside university campus, and then to justify it under the garb of freedom of speech. Rather than punishing students alone, action should be taken against the teaching faculty and those who provoked the students to go this far. The source of indoctrination like the faulty texts and curriculum contents — that leads to divisive mindset need to be reviewed and corrected,” remarked, Prof Saradindu Mukherjie, member, Indian Council for Historical Research.

A former vice chancellor, who didn’t want to be named told Firstpost, “I haven’t seen the content of the inquiry panel’s report, but I’m sure before pronouncing the punishment, they must have gone through the charges. Now, as the students have rejected the punishment imposed on them, what is the way out? Is there any plan B before the JNU administration? Now the issue will be heard in the court of law. Things have messed up.”

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Ahead of students’ strike in JNU, opinions divided on fairness of punishment