Burton Cleetus, an Assistant Professor of History at JNU, told TNM that the attack was the culmination of the steps taken to tarnish the reputation of the university.

Protest against Violence
news Interview Tuesday, January 14, 2020 - 19:17

It has been over a week since the violence at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) happened. A sting operation by India Today channel had revealed that three people affiliated with right-wing student body Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) were involved in the violence.

The Delhi Police had last week named Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) President Aishe Ghosh in an FIR accusing her of attacking security guards, and interrogated her on Monday evening.  

TNM spoke to Burton Cleetus, an Assistant Professor with the History Department at JNU’s Centre for Historical Studies, who was present in the campus during the violence that took place on January 5.

Burton believes that the attack had been plotted within the campus itself.

“Without organised planning, it wouldn't have been possible for people to enter the campus. If not, how were some 100 people with sticks able to enter the campus? How were they allowed to enter a campus where no one is allowed inside without checking identity cards. The assailants were armed and they had IDs, right? Not that they came from outer space,” he says.

A video of a fringe group called the Hindu Raksha Dal owning responsibility for the attack popped up days after the violence. The professor, however, feels that it’s not a valid claim and might be an attempt to divert attention and remain in news. 

Burton, a native of Kollam district in Kerala, is also the warden of JNU’s Jhelum Hostel.

The right-wing groups, however, have blamed the violence on the students’ wing of the Left, the Students’ Federation of India (SFI). 

Burton challenges this asking in that case why Aishe, who is an SFI leader, was attacked? Why were students with a neutral political stand attacked? 

“It’s a justification without logic, which happens when someone is in the denial mode,” he says.

“When you’re politically biased, you blindly trust whatever the political party you belong to says. The attack on JNU has been going on for long – hiking fees, shutting down dhabas, reducing the number of M.Phil seats, cutting down the one month vacation in December to one week and two months’ summer vacation to one month – this has been a phase by phase suffocation,” he says.

Burton explains how the discrediting of a university by the government happens. “First the students are called anti-national, and male students are termed terrorists and female students as sexually immoral. News has been spread that violence exists on the campus. All this has been done to make parents hesitate to send their children to JNU, to prevent the flow of students to the campus and so they distort information, discredit the campus and tarnish its reputation. But the students resisted all this and hence the government’s assailants resorted to violence. Students were even attacked inside their rooms, so parents would be afraid to send their children to JNU now right,” he says.

He wonders why the right-wing said that the JNUSU election would be valid only if they approve it. “They will find silly reasons to say that the election result is not valid,” Burton adds.

About a government discrediting one of the most reputed and consistently termed the best universities in the country in all benchmarks, the professor says that it wouldn’t have mattered even if the government had disowned the campus for it would have survived because of the strong mechanisms built up over the years with the hard work of so many people.

“It’s not at all easy to build the academic achievements of an institution, it’s the end result of the sacrifice of so many people. A university is not a building that is constructed with bricks and stone. But it’s easy to discredit it by unleashing a fake propaganda on WhatsApp,” he points out.

“What prevails now in the campus is anger, sadness and despair,” he concludes.