The fact that our university has a rich legacy of activism is rarely contested in India, or on Facebook—our ‘other’ country. We have produced our fair share of newspaper headlines, and fought a good number of battles for progressive causes (regressive for a multitude). Political correctness, in the present scenario, has become a norm and value which is much coveted but difficult to uphold. Therefore, we constantly try to understand systems of oppression and intersections; yes, some do roll their eyes when pointed at for political incorrectness, casual micro-aggressions and benevolent sexism. However, the very acknowledgement of this is a sign of a thriving liberal university space.
Like almost everything else in the world, JNU activism has flaws and gaps that need to be filled. We should foster a deeper culture of introspection within JNU to make student activism more inclusive. Here are six ways of doing so:
Our parchas require moderation. A slight plain-talk instead of jargon-based propaganda would find more readers. Parcha-writers need to make a genuine attempt to be simple, brief and easy grasping with their ideas. The rhetoric in parchas can be toned down in order to retain the essential substance of what has to be conveyed. It is important to note that parchas must be understood by all—even those who’re not familiar with Popper, De Beauvoir or Luxemburg. A lot of parchas, full of sound and fury, are used for nothing more than carrying rotis from the tawa to the plates in our mess. Words with substance are enough to cut through prejudices in our perceptions and do not need theatrics to be meaningful.
BA Students are Students Too!
There is a tendency among research students and “seniors” to engage in something I like to call “agesplaining”— which is very similar to mansplaining. This is much more dangerous than infantilization. More than once in my first year I have been denied a proper talking space within the political circles at Ad-Block. Our movements and political parties would be a lot more inclusive if BA students are actively encouraged to take part in the idea-sharing and decision-making process. A denial of participation in discussions stifles any chance of revisiting and dispelling earlier view-points which could’ve been held incorrectly. This substantially affects and hinders the process of moral/intellectual engagement that any student who becomes a part of JNU is likely to undergo.
Creative Ideas for Birthing Activists
Many students are inclined to see activists with a certain political party background as ‘predatory’ in nature. It is completely understandable that we need to strengthen campus politics, but we must also understand that our approach towards ‘birthing’ activists should not boil down to ‘making cadres’. It’s high time we realize that the current state of affairs alienate a lot of students from activism, and as a consequence leads to a permanent disenchantment from politics. We need to invent better and creative ways to allow each student to find that space (public/political) which is liberating, empowering and instils a sense of belonging to a certain ‘social’.
More Place for PH-VH, LGBT+ and Feminist Crowd
We have a strong number of differently-abled students in our campus, and we’ve already had at least two Students’ Union presidents from this category. However, there is a need to actively take up issues which directly concern them. We lack the discursive tools that can educate students about the stigma surrounding disability and its pejorative association with strongly held beliefs about caste and bad karma. The visibility or lack of visibility of students who associate most strongly with issues like gender discrimination, sexuality and oppression, disability, dependence and care must not be judged based on the standards set by a left versus right political field. The students should be made a part of the mainstream student activism on the pretext of these associations. They shouldn’t be made to envisage their cause in the ‘left or right’ paradigm. Student activism has been held captive by the Right vs. Left tussle such that the aforementioned causes are championed by anyone and everyone, even if they are virtually speaking against them. A tokenistic mention of JNU’s ‘gender-sensitivity’ at public gatherings doesn’t give one the license to crack silly, sexist jokes. LGBT+ meetings are labelled as ‘elitist’ and dismissed as an ‘upper-class’ phenomenon by some. This is the only faction of the student community whose cause rarely finds a mention in the speeches delivered by student activists.
Think Within, Think Without
A lot of students care about Palestine and Cuba, but there is a widespread agreement that JNUSU should work more on campus related issues. It is true that we need to raise pertinent issues and stand in solidarity with various progressive movements, but let’s focus on small concrete things, like being responsible voters, working for hostels and their sanitation, for the dhabas and shopkeepers, and making our campus greener—it’s never enough! Instead of trying to change Munirka and the world, we should focus more on changing the perceptions of people within the campus. A lot of students would actually relate to it, and would love to work with JNUSU on these issues. This is not to say that academics should be ‘apolitical’. It is only when one can relate to near-by experiences, can one associate deeply with what goes on beyond the walls of this great institution. Some say JNU is ‘India in microcosm’, a meaningful engagement with in-campus initiatives are bound to lead to involvement in larger social activities outside.
Allow Dissent and Mobility within Parties/Groups
We at JNU understand how important freedom to dissent and debate is. Subversive dissidence is allowed an immensely constricted legitimate space within political parties on campus. A lack of transparency leads to a concentration of power and control of affairs by ‘a few’. A lot of negativity is attached to moving from one political party to another. This makes the notion of university as a space for constant learning and introspection seems ironic. This needs to change for better; changing political parties is completely fine, no one should be socially boycotted or penalised for it. Finally, in politics respect for your opponents is a well-advised.
To cherish the essence of freedom of speech and expression, one has to perceive it as a form of political activity. The right to freedom of speech and expression is the freedom to act in a manner which prioritises the intrinsic necessity of this right. Without the performative aspects of this freedom, it is rendered inert and dormant. It is in the given context where we ask whether denial of a right is equivalent to non-performance of the same.
Kumar Prashant is a BA student at JNU and works for The Informer. Views expressed are personal.