JNUTA Lecture Series 2: Democracy and Social Justice: The Question and the Discourse of Social Justice

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18 January 2017: Day two of the JNUTA  lecture series, which has become a medium to express the discontent among teachers and students with regards to “the arbitrary stature that the JNU VC has undertaken”, witnessed sparks of the ever imperative question of social justice. It began with a performance–a call of distress for unity from the students of JNU.

The first speaker, Sohail Hashmi is a well-known face in film-making and the essence behind the cultural and heritage walks in Delhi. He is also an alumnus of JNU and spoke of his times here in this ‘democratic space.’ He read out the fact profile of the admission policy of JNU since its inception and traced the eminent role of JNUSU in building an all-encompassing admission policy. He brought out the definitive democratic picture of JNU in the 1970s when the administration looked into the matters of advertisement, releasing forms and centres for exam decision-making. The matters of admission and its procedure were handled by the faculty and the SFCs (Student-Faculty Committees). In later years, this admission policy began the inclusion of various deprivation points based on region, gender lag and other diverse social identities. As Mr Hashmi puts it, “The admission policy of the then JNU was conceived on the behest of JNUSU.” He condemned the arbitrary stance that the current VC vests in and appealed to the students to keep striving with the same enthusiasm and spark that they as the first batches in JNU lit “against absolutism.”

Prof. Madhu Kumar from the Department of Philosophy in Delhi University spoke largely on the confirmation that since the 1970s, the JNUSU that she was a member of in 1972-73 worked to “correct some problems that persist in the university space bearing the elitist colonial idea.” 

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“This campus is not an elite space, it is an inclusive space for the deserving aloof from their social identities and deprivation. This campus embarks upon the very idea of equality and determination for it. The admission policy in JNU has since its inception been pro-reservation because of the very basic fact that people in this country still yearn for basic survival, education for most is a prolonged dream. In 1972, the admission policy of JNU was as rigid as 55% mandatory for eligibility in MA entrance. JNUSU appealed to put a check on this policy that largely spoke for an English speaking elite. The Student’s Union picketed the administration for the same and G. Parthasarthy, the then VC of JNU invited the students for a series of talks and negotiations. The ‘talks’ began and the admission policy was gradually quantified based on the deprivation standards in the society.”

Prof. Kumar then went on to call the role of SFCs in her times “eminent.” She mentioned that the SFCs remained as observers during the viva for the entrance exam for MPhil, Ph.D., and MA (as the case may be) and they had to be consulted before the final list was prepared. This ensured a transparency in the admission procedure. She also quoted Jawaharlal Nehru, “If all is well within the University, all will be well with the nation.”

Prof. Pradeep Shinde from the Dept of Sociology who teaches in Labor Studies Department, JNU spoke for the denotified caste- the invisible. The “invisibility of the invisible”, as he called is, so rampant and stretched in our social system that we fail to acknowledge the question of justice for them, he said. “These denotified groups remain in the dark due to the stereotype of them being ‘cultureless’ people, criminal tendencies and nil political assertion.” Prof. Shinde also spoke of the tragic times of identity, he believes we are living in. “Rohith Vemula is being teased even after his death over the question of his caste identity, the Hinduisation that is in progress is absolute and authoritarian–an assertion of consciousness is dangerous in this manner.” He concluded by saying that we all are equally responsible for each other’s torments and upliftment in these tragic times and thus we should act upon what is right.

Prof. Anita Ghai from Ambedkar University took her turn to speak with vitality and a calm rage. She is a disability activist, and she took the question of social justice to an intricate level of understanding it by bringing in the question of disability in the social context. Prof. Ghai was vocal about her concerns and complaints that zeroed down to one viable understanding: “we all are temporarily abled beings and eventually, our body machinery shall falter in a way or another; disability by birth or by accident is an early reminder of our temporality.” There is a lack of discourse in disability studies, a major lack of epistemology in the understanding of disability. She spoke against the concept of ‘divyang’ that the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has been talking about. The professor, a disabled person herself, remarked that had we been divine or was this a context of divinity, we wouldn’t be facing everyday issues of existence; there is a question of adjustment at all times and an alert in all faces, she said. “The question of identity is always created by the ones who are in a better place and are devoid of the suffering. This question of social justice is a problem of the core, it is a problem of the society, the economy, the politics, and of linguistics.”

Exhorting unity, she said that the only affirmative solution to “this heinous standard in our society” is unity. “Unity of us all, unity through and in all the lenses and all the vantage points. A ‘collective’ body of unity among all diverse identities is our only hope.”

Discussion session followed the lectures and the day two of lecture series ended by a performance by the students. They presented an effective and a humorous play, taking a stance against the “authoritarian rule.” While returning, a student in the crowd remarked, “The loss of humanity and the upliftment of sectarian selfish interests that runs against the social system, the protest against this arbitrary stance, is the color of JNU today.”

Ankita is an MA student at CPS and works for the News Pool of The Informer.