5 August 2106 | Friday: The first Friday of the Monsoon Semester saw most of the classes shuttered, as teachers took to the administration building after Ashish Agnihotri, a teacher in the Centre for French and Francophone Studies, School of Languages was suspended.
The Extended EC meeting of the JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) on 1 August 2016, reiterated the position adopted at the earlier GBM, namely that “the decision of the vice chancellor to suspend a faculty member and to initiate disciplinary proceedings under Rule 14 of the CCS (CCA) Rules, 1965, was a wholly unjustified and disproportionate response to the matter at hand and can only be understood as a move motivated by the sole purpose of intimidating the teachers of JNU.”
This Friday, the university found itself engulfed by a sudden JNUTA strike which left the students without classes and turned a spotlight on the rising tensions between the administration and the teachers. This incident has placed both the JNUTA and the Vice Chancellor Jagadesh Kumar in a risky, politically fraught standoff, with no clear end in sight. Closed-door negotiations have been conducted for the past one week. The protesting leaders are opposed to the suspension, and stated that they stand against the CCS (CCA) rule due to its ambiguity, as it can be easily misused by those in power.
Earlier this week, around fifty teachers had swarmed through the academic building area in solidarity with Mr Agnihotri, who is also the Vice President of the teachers’ association.
The teachers saw the strike as a protest, not just against his suspension, but also against the systematic repression of the free-thinking individuals in the university, which many perceive is being pushed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
Addressing the protest demonstration at the administration building, Mr Ajay Patnaik, President, JNUTA said that the situation in the university and the country is grave as the democratic space is shrinking under the new government.
“You have a situation where people are being harassed for speaking up their minds and stooges of the government are being appointed in every nook and corner of this university,” he said.
This strike is also JNU’s second strike this year led by teachers, and revealed a strong solidarity between JNUTA, JNUSU and the Workers’ Associations. Around thirty students and fifteen workers—both from the contractual and permanent associations were present. Kanhaiya Kumar, President, JNUSU; Shehla Rashid, Vice President, JNUSU; and Ms Urmila from the Karamchari Union, all voiced their support for the strikers. They suggested that the fight in JNU was merely a glimpse, at a mounting national struggle, over the rising attacks on the autonomy of educational institutions in the country.
“CCS (CCA) Rules, 1965 are not applicable for autonomous institutions like JNU.
Time and again, we are forced to remind the government and the administration that we were made through an act of parliament and we have our own set of procedures,” Ms Mridula Mukherjee, a history professor explained to the gathered crowd.
At around twelve in the noon, Mr Bikramaditya Chaudhary, Secretary, JNUTA, read out the memorandum for the vice chancellor, which condemned his actions and called them “vindictive”, and being “motivated solely by the objectives of intimidating and harassing the teachers of JNU.”
He said that the JNUTA demanded the immediate withdrawal of Mr Agnihotri’s suspension and a dignified settlement of the matter. As well as a revocation of all procedures invoking the CCS (CCA) Rules, 1965, and the CCS (Conduct) Rules, 1964 on the grounds of non-applicability of these rules to JNU.
Mr Ashish Agnihotri, who has been a part of JNU for the past twenty five years thanked the gathered teachers, students and workers for their continued support and said that he is open to any enquiries, discussions, debates or questions by anyone on this matter.
“[JNU] has given me so much in terms of what is immaterial that these mere 26,000 rupees that I am charged with in terms of fraud is something which is so negligible, that even if I pay one hundred times of what I have taken, it [shall] not even be one-tenth of what I am taking way from this university…When I received the letter from the administration, I asked myself, how will I ever be able to face my students; I am a thief for my students now. It is better to die than to go to the classes. But my students have trusted me and are standing in solidarity, and this gives me immense strength…I cannot cheat my own people,” he said to the gathered crowd.
Kumar Prashant and Lakhyajit Taid are BA students at CRS, SL and work for The Informer.