A constitution serves as exemplar not merely through its will, but also its deeds [U.K.Singh, 2007]. When we imbue the written with the unwritten, the result is a kind of constitutionalism that is latticed with oxymoronic dualities— regularity and variance (regular variance), continuity and discontinuity (continuous discontinuity), pattern and randomness (patterned randomness), rule and resistance [Baxi, 2000] (rule of resistance).
Therefore, the quest to familiarise ourselves with the JNUSU constitution entails knowledge of not only the ‘content’ (provisions, procedures, constitutional bodies, quorum etc.); but also the ‘context’ (processes that led to its formation). There is also a need to be aware (beware!) of the narrative(s) that unfurls in the context of the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations (LCR).
Prakash Karat in his article, “Student Movement at Jawaharlal Nehru University”, published in Social Scientist, May 1975, informs us about the manner in which the JNUSU was formed and the constitution ratified in September 1971. As much as the constitution stresses on the Students’ Council (comprising all student-executives at the university and school level) being a deliberative body, the JNUSU constitution in itself is a product of intense and prolonged debate.
The Preamble outlines certain core principles that the JNUSU pledges to uphold—development and progress, a necessary correlation between academic courses and pressing needs of the society, democratic nature of institutions, promote and safeguard interests of the student community, link the student community with the democratic movement in the country, struggle for gender equality. The decisive objective of the constitution is to carve out the structural embodiment of the Union. The Union is to function at two levels— at the pan-University level and the School level.
There are four Parts to the constitution—
Part I: Article 1 deals with terminologies and definitions; an understanding of which is a pre-requisite to comprehend the constitution.
Part II: This part comprises Articles 2-8 which elaborately discuss the functions, sessions, quorum and decision making of/in the Students Council. The Students’ Council is to encourage deliberation and discussion, control finances and attend/ call for regular monthly/special sessions etc.
Part III: Articles 9-12 distinguish between the School General Body and University General Body; it also demarcates their respective jurisdictions.
Part IV: Elections, Impeachment, tenure and resignation related procedures encompass Articles 13-19. Article 18 expands upon the nature of JNUEC (JNU Election Committee).
The JNUSU constitution is concise, largely unambiguous, and humble-worded. There are mainly two constitutional bodies (JNUEC and GSCASH); the role, functions and election of which is mentioned in Appendix I and III.
JNUEC (JNU Election Committee)
Members to the JNUEC are elected by the School General bodies (comprising all full-time students in each school) on an annual basis. The elected members of the JNUEC then appoint a Chairman from amongst themselves. The JNUEC has the ultimate authority when it comes to code of conduct during elections, disqualification of candidates etc. Part 4 of Appendix I is of great importance for it issues guidelines to monitor and regulate conduct of voters and candidates at the time of canvassing and pamphleteering.
GSCASH (Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment)
The GSCASH was set up in 1999 through a JNU notification dated 16 April 1999. A constitutional status was ordained to the GSCASH through the most recent amendment (7th April 1999) to the JNUSU constitution. This amendment was symbolic of a positive response from the student community towards gender based discrimination and sexual harassment.
It has three main purposes: Gender sensitisation and orientation, crisis management and mediation, and formal enquiry and redressal. Their most recent initiative involves putting up of wall journals relating to gender issues to foster a healthy interactive relationship of the JNU community with the GSCASH.
The LCR Controversy
The LCR responded to an attempt to transform the mode of student-representation from presidential to parliamentary in a few universities in Kerala. It was believed that in the current system, elections led to chaos and anarchy. Questions were raised as to what extent universities can curb political activities which are not officially linked to the university. When spoken with Ram Naga (General Secretary, JNUSU) about LCR’s aim to ‘depoliticise’ student politics; his arguments resonated views of a chunk of the student community: “The agenda was to tackle money and muscle power in student elections. What the LCR claims to remedy continues to plague elections in universities like DU. LCR aims to weaken the students’ movement so as to pave way for commercialisation of higher education.”
The following is an account by Subin Dennis, CESP Ph.D. (4th Year) from the time elections were banned in JNU from 2008-2011:
“The time when we didn’t have JNUSU elections was a tough period for the students’ movement in JNU. We were left fighting various setbacks and the assaults on hard-won students’ rights, and there was no forward movement on many core students’ demands. For instance, the genesis of the hostel crisis we have been facing for the last few years lies in this period, and once the extended tenure of the Union elected in 2007-08 was over, there was no elected student body representing all JNU students which could champion demands such as hostels.”
The JNUSU elections for 2016 will be held in September. The UGBM held on April 12-13, 2016 called for an election defying the Lyndoh Committee Recommendations. Whether we currently follow the LCR or abide by the JNUSU constitution is a difficult question to answer. The Lyngdoh Committee at some point acknowledged the JNUSU constitution as ideal for many universities. Many of its recommendations (except for many others) coincide with provisions of the JNUSU constitution.
Content and context dialectically engage with one another such that they both undergo anomalous changes. The ‘written’ of the constitution embeds an ‘unwritten’ backdrop and foreground. We carry history on our shoulders, the future in our visions and the present in volition to act.
Aakanksha D’Cruz is an MA student at CPS and works for the Opinion Pool of The Informer.