9 February 2017 | Thursday: It all started with various centres across the varsity coming to the administration building to submit signed petitions to revoke the UGC Gazette recommendations dated 5 May 2016, at noon today. The JNU Students Union had earlier called upon the students to assemble at the Pink Palace for a mass demonstration, following the referendum where 98 per cent students voted against the implementations of the UGC Gazette.
The students of Centre for Study of Social Systems (CSSS) came out after their discussion with the Vice Chancellor and addressed the gathered crowd, expressing their discontent with negotiations. While the faction from CSSS was exiting the building, students from Centre for Political Studies (CPS) were prevented from entering the building by the guards, leading to a scuffle between the guards and the students. As the rumours of the Vice Chancellor and the Rector leaving the building went around, CPS students broke into the Pink Palace demanding an audience with one of the remaining officials.
Milap Punia, Director of Admissions, JNU, then held a meeting with the students but was not successful in satisfying their concerns. Questions were raised about the need for a fee hike, decision-making process that led to seat cuts, and clarity on eligibility criteria in the three-stage entrance exam. Discontent, students then proceeded to occupy the premises of the administration building through the day.
Throughout the day, the gathered students sloganeered against the administration and the new admission policies. Revolutionary songs were sung as samosas and biscuits were served by the Union in the evening after which common students from various centres convened a meeting with representatives of the JNUSU and the Committee for Suspended Students for Social Justice to discuss further course of the movement. While the former had called for occupying the administration premises, the latter exhorted the students to join them in blocking the premises at 7 am the next day, and prevent the entry of all administrative staff and disrupt the normal functioning of the University administration. The meeting concluded with an agreement that a final decision on ‘occupy versus blockade’ shall be reached once the strength of gathered students is identified.
As the night progressed and the temperatures dropped, mess campaigns were organised by all participating factions to mobilise hostel residents; JNUSU urging for an occupy and AISF-BAPSA-DSU-NSUI-YFDA supported Committee for Suspended Students asking for a total blockade. DSF conducted a room-to-room campaign regarding the seat cuts and collecting signatures on a message for the President of India who is coming to JNU on March 6 to felicitate the University with ‘Best University Award’; Collective put up a banner at Ad-Block that read “JNU Admin is Occupied.” The Students Union hunger strike has entered the ninth day and a handful of students including the Students Union President Mohit Pandey are still on a fast. The morning of 9 February this year saw a significant section of students sporting bloody bandages on their eyes and forehead, reproducing the impact of pellet guns that were used by Indian armed forces on Kashmiris, reminding the students of the “continued aggression of the Indian State in Kashmir.” Graffiti was painted in front of various schools and during the lunch, students from School of Arts and Aesthetics performed flash-plays at different points in the campus on various facets of life in “Kashmir under occupation.” Art installations were put up at several places regarding the same, the prominent ones outside School of Social Sciences II and School of International Studies I.
In the cold winter air, films like Safdar and Children of the Pyre were screened at Freedom Square where more than two hundred students sat till late midnight as an act of protest. Bonfires were lit at various points outside administration building, around which students made posters on a range of issues from privatisation of education to the “rising fascism in autonomous university spaces.” Inside the occupied premises, students huddled together around singers and guitarists who sang songs of resistance: Imagine by Lenon to Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. As the numbers dwindled, students became more and more sceptical of the idea of a blockade. Scattered rounds of sloganeering continued to add to the commotion at the Freedom Square.
“The last time there was a total blockade was in 1992 when two thousand students had gathered to occupy the building, we at least need a fourth of that number in the morning to make the blockade successful”, Divya, an M.Phil student at Centre for Political Studies noted.
Kumar Prashant and Mansi Singh work for The Informer. Pictures by Sunaina Dular, a research scholar at SIS who also works for The Informer.