“Our coming generations will ask us for an answer, they will ask us, where were you when new social forces were being unleashed, where were you when people who live and die every moment, every day strived for their rights, where were you when there was an assertion of the marginal voices of the society. They will seek an answer from all of us…”
– Comrade Chandrashekhar
JNU as we have known it for decades is under attack. The BJP Government and Sangh Parivar are running a #ShutDownJNU campaign – hounding JNU students with sedition charges, unjust punishments and campaigns branding them ‘anti-nationals.’ JNU teachers are being hounded too – for their lectures, or targeted with unfair punitive actions. Established norms of appointing Centre Chairpersons and wardens are being sought to changed to suit the ideological worldview of the party in government. Numerous ‘decisions’ to curtail students’ democratic spaces are being imposed, trampling upon JNU’s well-established democratic procedures of decision making involving JNUSU and elected hostel bodies. JNU’s unique culture of Public Meetings are being sought to be throttled with elaborate surveillance on speakers and participants. The JNU Administration has recently sought to shut down the iconic Ganga Dhaba – the site of so many political discussions, friendly conversations, of young people hanging out and exchanging ideas.
As JNU is under attack, it’s important to recall the legacy of Comrade Chandrashekhar – who represents what is best about JNU.
Breaking the Barriers
Chandu came to JNU as a student and left as an activist of the agrarian poor. He was shot dead in his hometown Siwan on 31 March1997, while addressing a street corner meeting against the spate of Dalit massacres in Bihar. The years in JNU were years of political activism and struggle as he first got attracted and then deeply involved with the radical politics of newly fledgling AISA .He was elected to lead JNUSU first as vice president in 1993, then twice as President in 1994 and 1995 – in winning support for a robust challenge to the communal and anti-Mandal politics of the ABVP.
In 1994, it was under Chandu’s leadership that JNUSU launched a successful struggle for the restoration of deprivation points in JNU admissions (on the basis of social, regional and gender deprivations). This unique feature of JNU’s admission policy had been scrapped in 1983, and it was the very first JNUSU led by AISA, that restored it in 1994. Again, it was during the neo-liberal assault of the early 1990s that Chandu led massive historic agitation which succeeded in foiling an attempt at imposing fee hikes and privatisation in JNU in 1995.
For Chandrashekhar, JNU was not an island. He forged links between the student’s movement and people’s movements all over the country. Be it the protests against the rape of Bhanwari Devi in Rajasthan, the massacre of dalit landless poor at Bathani Tola, the Narmada Bachao Andolan against displacement of tribals in the name of development, the rape by police of activists of the Uttarakhand statehood movement in Muzaffarnagar, against state repression in the North-east and Kashmir, against draconian laws like TADA and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Chandu made JNU students an integral part of all those movements.
Chandrashekhar’s struggle for a socially inclusive JNU was carried forward by AISA when Madarsa certificates were recognised for the first time in 2008 in JNU; when a sustained struggle was waged from 2008-2011 against the deliberate subversion of the OBC reservations by a distorted definition of the ‘cut off marks’. That struggle resulted in landmark verdicts in the Delhi HC and Supreme Court that put an end to the subversion and diversion of OBC seats not only in JNU but all over India. Through consistent struggles, AISA has kept alive Chandu’s vision of an inclusive campus by driving out Nestle outlet and defending campus shops and spaces from corporate takeover and in safeguarding contract workers’ rights and preventing manual scavenging on campus.
Chandrashekhar had returned to his hometown Siwan as a full-time CPI(ML) activist, and was killed at the behest of the then RJD MP and criminal mafia don Mohd. Shahabuddin. Today, Shahabuddin has recently been made a member of the RJD National Executive – even as he serves a life sentence for the kidnapping and murder of another CPI(ML) activist Chhote Lal Gupta. Chandrashekhar awaits justice still – as do the victims of the Bathani Tola, Laxmanpur Bathe and other massacres – massacres committed by the BJP-backed Ranveer Sena with the collusion of the RJD.
“What didn’t you do to bury me,
but you forgot that I was a seed.”
Chandrashekhar’s words about the vision of a “a regressive, communal and fascist India” contending with a “egalitarian, secular and progressive India” resonate today with especial urgency when Akhlaque is killed at Dadri and Dalit youth are stripped and flogged at Una by the communal-casteist ‘cow protectors’ or Gau Goons. Chandu’s vision comes alive in our ongoing struggle to save the democratic and inclusive ethos of JNU against the multi-pronged attack by the RSS, the Govt and the pliant administration.
From Chandrashekhar to Rohith Vemula, the student movement is inspired by the legacy of students who saw education as a way to understand and seek to change society, challenge hierarchies. Those who killed them sought to kill their ideas. The killers forgot the words of the Greek LGBT poet Dinos Christianopoulos (also expressed by Mexican protesters): “What didn’t you do to bury me/but you forgot that I was a seed.” The seeds sown by Chandu and Rohith continue to sprout and grow all around us, as young people are at the forefront of the most determined struggles against communal-corporate fascism and to assert students and people’s democratic rights.