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JNUTA Lecture Series 3: Questioning Autonomy, Asserting Minority Rights, Social Justice, and Daastaangoi Performance

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20 January 2016 | 5:30 PM: ‘When we are in the midst of a struggle, only complete honesty can take us forward’, were the concluding words of Yogendra Yadav when he talked about social justice as an absolute entity at Administration Block or Freedom Square as it is popularly known these days, on the third day of the ongoing lecture series titled ‘Democracy and Social Justice’. This is yet another instalment of lecture series organised by JNU Teachers Association; the open lectures on a wide range of issues were first incubated in March 2016 during the “Save JNU” movement. The second series, focusing on different kinds of Azadi, or freedom, were extremely popular.

Yogendra Yadav, the founder of the Swaraj Abhiyan and a prominent face of the Jai Kisan Andolan, spoke to an enthusiastic crowd about the recent UGC notifications, university autonomy, and social justice in general. He began by congratulating JNU fraternity for “withstanding the instigated backlash from various sources and showing the nation what an institution should stand for.” Yogendra Yadav, an ex-student of JNU, specially mentioned Nivedita Menon in his lecture, calling his classmate a “relentless academician, a hardliners reckoning”; Nivedita Menon has recently been sent a show-cause notice by the Administration for participating in a protest meeting at Ad-block. Discussing the UGC’s latest recommendation that was approved by JNU administration, that talked of allocation 100 percent marks for viva-voce in the research admission process, he attempted to make it clear that the UGC circular has nowhere suggested this option and the official UGC guidelines are more about allocating the number of research scholars under a teacher than about viva-voce marks. “JNU administration is indeed exercising its autonomy with this decision, a fact which even UGC director, Mr Ved Prakash has reiterated”, Yadav said. He went on to question the legitimacy of unaccounted for decisions when universities exercise full autonomy. “I’ve known universities which have not, in the last decade, followed UGC guidelines regarding OBC reservations and ensuring social equity within administrative handhold”, he commented. In the end, while answering a question on “how much is too much autonomy” for an educational institution, he answered that since the advent of a “nationalised institution”, powers at the centre as well as state level throughout different regimes have been known to influence universities in the form of guidelines or sending patronised coterie to head the institution.

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“It’s a very natural process of people in great power forgetting the greater responsibility…the student and the teacher make an institution, a big brother can impose diktats and shove on your face a vicious cycle of oppression, but they cannot stifle your determination to work hard and inspire others.”

The second lecture was delivered by Tanveer Fazal, a teacher at CSSS in JNU and a research consultant with Prime Minister’s High-Level Committee (Sachar Committee, 2006) wherein he worked specifically on status stratification with particular reference to the OBCs among the Muslims of India. He discussed ‘Minorityism or Minority Rights: Sachar Committee, Muslims and the question of Social Justice’. Mr Fazal spoke at length about a rather turbulent history of minority appeasement and commencement of minority rights in the framework of Indian constitution. He also discussed the advent of the question of OBC rights post-independence when OBCs were only discussed on the economic and educational backwardness with the social reality left open to interpretation. It was in 1950-51 that a commission was assigned to research more on the parameters for backwardness for a minority. The commission headed and named after Kaka Kalelkar organised castes as a social parameter for backwardness in the economic or educational sphere. But, the Chairman himself bifurcated from grouping castes in order of their social order as it would generate vociferous objections. The then Prime Minister himself rejected the Kalelkar commission and suggested that the parameter of caste distinction should rely more on economic parameters. Thus, a newly independent nation had to find its own course on caste reservations.

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Talking about minorityism as a term, Fazal said that this term is different from minority rights as it reduces a minority community to merely its cultural identity without looking at their material deprivation or power differentials which they suffer. He discussed the fact that Ambedkar had indeed suggested in the draft constitution before 1950 that economically impoverished communities and Scheduled Tribes should be included in the broader spectrum of ‘minority’ and an auditor should be assigned to monitor the various needs of the minority framework. However, in the final constitution, his suggestions were blacklisted and any reference to minority rights came across as Article 29 and 30 which entitles them to establish religious and educational institutions and preserve their cultural identity. “Ambedkar’s idea of a communal majority not taking over as a permanent majority and how within the executive, different minorities and the majority should be represented is long forgotten now.”

On Sachar Committee, he explained that it was constituted with a specific agenda to investigate the educational, materialistic and social deprivation amongst Muslims. The committee does argue that identity, social and economic equity are the core of Muslim rights. It did succeed to a great extent, exploding a popular myth of ‘minority appeasement’. It challenged with relevant data, the popular discourse of appeasement for the biggest minority in India, the Muslims, sidelining the permanent majority. It also challenged various premonitions regarding Muslims about gender equity, oppression of women, mortality rate, etc. ” The data collected by Sachar Committee turned out to be a rather different social reality of what was basically presumed by the Indian political structure. The national average regarding female mortality, modern education, sex ratio and divorce cases was better than the national average. In fact, only three percent of Muslim children in India go to Madrassa today to receive religious education. India needs to see India’s biggest majority from a different lens as contrary to the spectacle provided by the ‘cultural custodians’ of Muslims”, he said. He concluded with the note that implementations of social justice cannot be any different for Muslims than what caters to other minorities.

In an interesting turn of events, suddenly after Tanveer Fazal had finished, members of United OBC Forum took to the stage and threatened to burn their respective degrees from JNU if the Vice Chancellor does not reconcile and takes back the discriminatory decision to allot 100 percent viva weightage in research admissions. To an astonished audience, they were talked to and persuaded by the teaching fraternity to not burn their transcripts. They did strike a bargain but on the terms that if the VC does not reply on Monday there will be mass degree burning and protests on the campus. After the chaos surceased, a comical presentation of Daastaangoi followed, with humoristic undertones to a drama about “dark and brooding dictatorial times, when discretion is monitored and dissent is castigated.”

Asiya Naqvi is a BA student at CAAS, SLL&CS and works for the News Pool of The Informer.

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