I have just finished my M.A. from Centre for French and Francophone Studies and I write this for prospective students that have been selected for the integrated BA- MA program in Foreign Languages. I will take you through my journey of 5 years in J.N.U. and probably help you figure out why you should come to JNU and why it may not be the best possible option for you. In this article I would focus on various aspects of JNU life ranging from studies to nightlife to student politics to put forth an insider’s account (and hopefully to break some myths doing rounds in the media these days).
Now there are some very concrete benefits of JNU like the fees (less than 300 Rupees per semester), hostel facilities, teacher student ratio, etc but in this article, I have tried to avoid comparison as far as possible and I have talked about what your life will be when you come to JNU.
Why you should come to JNU
- Choice of courses
Apart from your core courses, you will have to do a minimum of eight courses from outside your Center during the three years of your BA (It is not as difficult as it sounds). And the advantage is that YOU get to choose them according to your likes and your dislikes. In this stage no one judges your choices, it’s a great way to explore fields that are allied or outside your core subjects. Moreover, the choices are plenty, for example you may be doing your bachelors in Spanish but you can choose “elective courses” from Arabic to Computer science to International Studies! These courses are not difficult, the professor starts from scratch. Your choices are not limited to that. You can choose whether to attend these classes or study on your own (attendance is generally optional); you can choose to attend classes even if it is not mentioned in the list of electives by talking to the concerned professor. You don’t have to choose by simply looking at the list, you can attend a few classes to see how it goes. If you find a course difficult but interesting you can simply attend the class without giving the exam! And so much more! You are really spoiled for choice in JNU.
- You choose who you want to be
I use the verb “to be” in all its nuances. From the classes you wish to select (or not; except for some core courses) to the way you choose to dress and however weird your opinions may be, you are a fit for JNU. And no! JNU is not a hub of misfits of the society, a large section of the community is exactly like the world outside. The only difference is that there is an awareness that people should be respected for who they are and wish to be. There is a laissez-etre (let them be) attitude in JNU and the advantage is that no one expects anything from you.
If there is one thing that distinguishes JNU from the rest it is the amount of exposure. Apart for your classes many centers organize seminars, talks and conferences every day. And they are open for EVERYONE! (even non-JNUites). And they are contrary to popular opinion generally non-political in nature. And what’s more? Students themselves organize talks in hostel’s mess and dhabas that include speaker’s form public intellectuals to writers to Nobel prize winners (the last one is not an exaggeration). For example after the Panama Scandal, I attended a talk show in Mahi-Mandavi Mess at 11 p.m. by the journalist who was following the story for one year before he published it in the Indian Express. Plus, organizations that are non-political in nature in JNU are more numerous and attract larger crowds. We have theatre fests, arts fests, food fests and what not. It’s a complete package.
- Academics beyond classes
I believe that this is what JNU stands for. Academics in JNU are not for getting marks or getting a job (although it gives that too). Academics and academic argumentation in JNU are a way of life that means that we have a Plato in every nook and corner. J When I came to JNU, I was confused and (slightly put off) because everywhere I went I heard people saying “in this capitalist mode of functioning” and “because of Brahmanical way of being”. I thought, like many of you would, that these people are communists who stall the economy and make us poor. Well, five years down the line, I don’t think so. That’s because these Platos may not necessarily be talking about concrete policies or events but the ideological ways in which we conceive our society. Don’t get what I am talking about? Come, figure it out!
- In politics you are left, center, right, above, under or none of these
Whatever your political beliefs, it really doesn’t matter. I am not joking or being partial. True, some left organizations are very prominent in JNU, but there are far more numerous critics of Left than the Left. Here, critics do not include only ABVP and NSUI but many feminists, LGBTQI+ groups, academia, religious minority groups, etc. And no one really bothers you. Even if people argue with you they will still be friends with you. Most of you who will come on campus will only experience politics in JNU from the parchas that you may get from activists in the corridors. Except for early this year, the battle between different organizations is extremely nuanced and there was (is) never a complete schism between these groups.
Now I will tell you the best kept secret of JNU: wonderful placements! Yes, ignore all those who tell you that there are no placements in JNU. These are less numerous than other places but there is hardly any competition. So, everyone who applies succeeds with flying colors in the very first attempt. True story: My brother, after his B.Tech. and one year experience, is earning 25k and a friend (after her M.A. from JNU) who has just joined an MNC has a basic salary of 40k! She was a good student, regular to her classes but was not a topper. Academics is what most choose after their B.A.-M.A. program, but if you think you are not up to that, JNU is still the place for you.
Why JNU isn’t the Best Possible Option for You
- You can’t choose
Let’s face it. We are Indians. Most of you wouldn’t have chosen what you studied. Your parents and neighbors make that choice. So faced with so many choices, you may have a nervous breakdown because you have constantly been fed that this or that exam or course work is the end of your world. In JNU, you have to make numerous choices and fast. You can’t ponder indefinitely over everything. So the point is that you explore and are not afraid to make mistakes. But if you can’t do that and more importantly you can’t even conceive of a possibility of ever doing that, think twice before accepting that offer. Many drop outs of my class had that specific problem.
- You need to be spoon fed
Again a very Indian problem; I too have given boards. Even in the Math paper the questions are the same as given in the book. Cramming notes and rote learning is an integral part of school education. Well not so here. I can’t speak for other universities but in the five years, I can count the number of times I read my notes for exams: twice. Yup, exams in JNU (this can differ in each Center) test your creativity, critical thinking, organization, structuring, clarity of thought but not the amount of information you have crammed. Exams are mostly open book. Plus, classes are usually discussions where you are supposed to read the books before you want to contribute to the class. If not, you may be lagging behind. And beware, in some Centers the dropout rate is quite high (as much as 50%!) and it’s because of this reason. Another disadvantage is that the transition from school to JNU is rather difficult and you will have to take this initiative. Not many can and will help you if you don’t ask for it.
- You are not independent
Now this doesn’t mean that I think that all non-JNUites are dependent and live in their cocoons. It only means there is no excuse in JNU for not being fiercely independent. I will explain by a very concrete example. Out of three mid-term sessionals, only two are counted in the final grade and we can choose them. In BA lot of these sessionals are group projects. I was ill during the first one and had a really bad team in the second one. Out of four in my group, only I and a friend worked. Moreover we had to make a PowerPoint presentation, sculptures, paintings and a 40 minutes speech in French and make the people who didn’t speak learn it! It was horrible and I shed tears many times. But we did all that without sleeping and in the end, it went well. But the point is that in these situations the professors don’t help. They just don’t. If I had gone to my professor, she would have given us all an F. Full stop.
So ultimately if you can’t do what we had to do, life is going to be difficult. Even now ask any student of my class and see how they make faces when someone even mentions group projects.
In the end, all that I can say is that JNU is not a paradise and neither is it hub of terrorists. If you are anti-communists, anti-anti-national (whatever that means) and only think of a university as a place to get a degree to get a job, well, JNU can (and will) offer you just that. But JNU, in my opinion, is different because it offers a possibility. A possibility, if you wish to exercise it, can open doors to all that is wonderful and unique about JNU: dhabas, politics, activism, theatre, arts, mushairas, elections, railways budget (yes, we have student meeting over that too), online forums, litti-chokhas, and the most unique and spectacular the JNU Holi!
P.S.: Don’t think I am biased because I enumerated more positive points. With hindsight, I genuinely do believe that JNU is an amazing place to be.
Gargi Binju has recently submitted her MA dissertation in CFFS, SL and is awaiting her MA results.