21 November 2016| 10:00 AM: Amidst calls for boycotting and setting up a ‘resistance camp’ by JNUSU for allegedly excluding JNUSU, JNUTA, JNUSA and the rest of the existing collectives in the campus, the JNU administration successfully organized its first – JNU Open Day programme, called ‘Jan Jan JNU’ (JNU for everyone).
At around 10:00 AM, students from various schools started pouring in the Convention centre where the inaugural programme was supposed to take place. After the registration, the students followed the volunteers along with their teachers to the auditorum, where they were addressed by the VC, Dr Girish Sahni, Director General at ICSIR and Prof V. Ramgopal Rao, Director at IIT Delhi. Prof V. Ramgopal Rao was the guest of honour for the event.
The students were then taken to the Convention centre lawns, where an exhibition was set up for them giving them an insight into the various Schools and Centers in the university, information about the various disciplines, faculty members, courses offered, publications, work done, and achievements were displayed. Some of the centers had made a lot of effort to decorate their stalls – especially the science centers who had put up models, charts and posters, lab equipment, etc for the onlookers.
It was observed that the focus largely was on the science and the special centers that were occupying the most prominent positions in the lawns, whereas certain centers like the ones from the School of Languages were relegated to the space near the parking lot in front of the new SL building. There was a lot of talk on the significant achievements of JNU’s advancements in the fields of science, competency of the labs, facilities etc and since both Prof. Rao and the VC belong to IIT Delhi, a lot of comparisons ensued between the two universities as well as possibilities for exchange and collaboration. If one may hazard to make a guess, the exhibition was modeled on the public exhibitions they have in the IITs (probably to let the citizens know how the money in public institutions is being utilized).
As a matter of fact, the tour that was planned for the students from the different schools was planned through the special schools near the Convention center, to the science centers and the newly built SSS-3 and SL-2 buildings. In fact, children were not allowed to go towards the old school buildings. This section is the hub of significant number of very interesting graffiti and art work, the lawns and the open space are always abuzz with conversations and discussions, the walls are a menagerie of posters and parchas on the most diverse topics and the buildings have some of the best canteens. A bunch of students from Bal Bharti were strolling near the SL-2 building, they told us they do not have the permission to go beyond the new buildings area, they were warned that they might get lost. Their faces instantly lit up when we told them the best art works are on the walls of the old buildings, just a few steps ahead, and if they venture out a bit, nobody will notice their absence for a few minutes!
For most of the students, it was their first time in JNU and they were visibly delighted and excited to be there. An 8th grader from KV, when asked said “speech mein VC ne pura paka diya,” his friend however nudged him quickly and offered “It was very nice ma’am, [Prof. Rao] he told us about a lot of useful things like how we can develop new technologies and make mobile phones to do different things”. It would have been more interesting had they been allowed near the old buildings, the library and the canteens and interact with the scholars and teachers here.
Also, most students we talked to baring a few exceptions were in High school and particularly from the Humanities. The students from Bal Bharti were quite thrilled and wanted to see the ‘Social Sciences’ centre; they were however only allowed into the lobby on the ground floor of the SSS-3 building where books by the faculty members were displayed on benches, while representatives from the different centres kept a watchful eye.
‘Jan Jan JNU’ could have been a good opportunity to bridge the gap between the university and the general public, a gap that became quite apparent during the aftermath of the 9 February 2016 incident. It could have proved a good means to put the outrageous rumours and presumptions to rest that have been doing rounds on social media networks and media channels since then. Similarly, it would have been nice to explain the so called ‘JNU politics’ to the visitors, the ‘why’s’ and ‘wherefores’ would have come in galore, but that would have also meant interacting directly with people and particularly the youngsters to tell them why here in JNU we think it so important that things be critiqued and scrutinized, debated and discussed and if something happens to appear particularly disturbing then let others know about it through protests, demonstrations, or slogans; whatever the means, as long as they are peaceful. Perhaps, a ‘Know about JNUSU and the campus traditions’ can be done the next time?
At the exhibition
Agreed it was being done for the first time, and with the #JusticeFor Najeeb protest still continuing, the administration was wary of any disturbances; but if one has to showcase JNU to people curious about the campus and interested in getting to know about what goes on within the walls of the university ensconced in the lap of nature; why not show them the other remarkable achievements too? The open spaces (read both literally and figuratively) which in spite of the much debate among different factions on the various hegemonies and intrusions, continue to thrive and prosper, the lawns and gardens, the hostel areas, the green vistas, the wilderness, the dhabas, PSR among others. Maybe we all can join in, and engage and converse with the visitors? Agreed JNU is largely an open campus, and anyone can visit the place as per their convenience; yet a formal gesture of invitation on a particular day wouldn’t be too much of a trouble now, will it?
The ‘Jan Jan JNU’, by all means and accounts will be an annual fixture now, let us see how the administration decides to go about it the next year.
The writer works as The Informer correspondent. The views expressed are personal.