An ‘absolutely apolitical’ space: Why Jindal University suspended two students

Law students Mukundan Nair and Ramnit Kaur were suspended by the University Student Disciplinary Committee after they held a public discussion on “Ram Mandir: A farcical project of Brahmanical Hindutva fascism”.
A poster of the controversial event with the OP Jindal logo
A poster of the controversial event with the OP Jindal logoNewslaundry
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Two students from OP Jindal Global University were suspended earlier this week for “derogatory and provocative statements”, after videos of a discussion they held on Ram Mandir went viral. 

Law students Mukundan Nair, 21, and Ramnit Kaur, 20, were suspended by the University Student Disciplinary Committee of OP Jindal Global University on February 10. They are part of a Marxist student group called the Revolutionary Students League which held a public discussion last week on “Ram Mandir: A farcical project of Brahmanical Hindutva fascism”.

Posters for the events had been put up by students around campus. According to the disciplinary committee, the posters contained “extremely problematic and provocative statements that are capable of hurting the religious sentiments of a particular section of the JGU community”.

The suspended students said their one of the reasons for their suspensions was a video from the event that was “taken out of context”. The video, widely shared online by right-wing social media accounts and right-wing blogs OpIndia and Organiser, shows Nair saying, “We’ll replace all the temples with mosques, then we’ll replace all of the temples that are restructured…”

However, Nair told Newslaundry: “The actual statement I made was that the history of Brahmanism and Buddhism in India is such that temples were built over Buddhist if the same logic is applied we’ll have to destroy temples and build masjids over them. I am not saying we should do that.”

Two days after the suspensions, Chief Proctor Karan Latayan emailed all the students of the university with a warning. He urged them to “understand the distinction between politically aware and doing politics” and barred them from “associating themselves with unofficial and unrecognised organisations seeking to do politics on the university campus, like the Safdar Hashmi Reading Circle and the Revolutionary Students League”.

The students were also advised to get posters and other written media vetted by university authorities before making them public. 

University officials told Newslaundry that all the decisions of the university in this matter had been done “by the book” and that the parents of the students had been kept informed. 

“We have taken our time to review the event in its entirety, which started with posters being circulated on January 22. It’s a confidential disciplinary process that has been done carefully,” said the official.

Latayan did not respond to Newslaundry’s request for comment.

What led to the suspensions? 

The public discussion on February 7 was held at an area called ‘hangouts’ on campus. It was attended by three members of RSL and four others.

Kaur and Nair told Newslaundry the event was “interrupted” by 20-30 members of a right-wing student reading group called Abhinav Bharti. They sat down for a few minutes and then shouted “Jai Shri Ram”. The members of the RSL retaliated by shouting their own slogans – “Inquilab Zindabad” and “Jai Bhim”.

On the same day, a video from the event was posted online alongside pictures of the poster. Social media posts demanded that the students be suspended. Nair’s number was on the poster and he soon began getting anonymous phone calls.

“People started sending me death threats, saying they will murder me and my family,” he said. 

On February 9, the university sent four people showcause notices – Nair, Kaur, a member of RSL, and another student who was at the discussion but is not a member of RSL. 

Each notice was slightly different. All of them accused the students of putting up posters and hosting a discussion that, in the notice’s words, tried to “instigate people of contrary belief, thereby attracting negative attention to the university”. 

The one sent to Kaur cited videos uploaded on RSL’s Instagram handle which featured her saying, among other things, that the event “has shown us the importance of being organised as revolutionary forces on campus, political forces”.

The notice to Nair cited a video of him from Instagram where he said, “...the only thing that can end this Brahminical force is military resistance standing up to them”. It also cited a video circulating online where Nair said “...we will replace all temples with mosques”. 

The other two students were sent notices for putting up the posters.

The next morning, each students responded to their showcause notice saying that they had “genuinely aimed to democratically discuss our concerns with whichever students showing up at the discussion and hear their voices and form an opinion there.” 

Kaur told Newslaundry her response mentioned the threats she had been receiving and “appealed to the university to take cognizance of the threats”.

“I hold this university in great esteem and my actions were based on a wish to create a vibrant space for discussion, democracy, and a space for students to take a stance,” she wrote. “It was the members of Abhinav Bharat who released tweets, and in my belief, engineered news that maligns both us and this university.” 

At around 10.30 am on February 10, all four of them received an email notifying them of a hearing scheduled to take place at 11.45 am – just an hour later. Kaur and Nair told Newslaundry they were not on campus at such short notice. Newslaundry reviewed all these emails. 

The other two students attended the hearing in front of a university student disciplinary committee. It consists of members from the student council, officials from the chief proctor’s office, and administrators. Both the students – who also did not feature in any videos – were not suspended.

Nair and Kaur received emails saying they were suspended. The emails also pointed out that they did not attend their hearings.

In the suspension order, the university said the students did not seek permission before carrying out the public discussion, nor did they get the poster vetted from the administration.

The order further said that “derogatory and provocative statements were made” during the event, “which are reasonably capable of hurting the religious sentiments of various JGU stakeholders, who have an equal right to not align with the beliefs and opinions being perpetrated as part of the advertised event.” The order also noted that the students also posted the videos shot at the event, which “clearly demonstrates a deliberate intent on your part to attract widespread viewership.” 

The order also noted that the comments of the students “with the intention of outraging the institution of Ram Mandir and ridiculing the ceremony of the Pran Prathistha” could be charged as contempt of court of the Supreme Court,” and “by calling for the destruction of temples, including the Ram Mandir, directly goes against the decision of the Supreme Court.”

It should be noted RSL did not apply for permission to host the event, but its members told Newslaundry that isn’t the norm for small discussions attended by only a handful of students.

Further prohibitions

Nair and Kaur told Newslaundry they refused to leave campus after being notified about their suspensions. Subsequently, university security physically forced them out, videos of which were circulated online.  

The chief proctor then emailed all students “in the light of the recent events”. He reminded them of the distinction between being politically aware and “exhibiting your beliefs in any manner which is detrimental to the beliefs of others is absolutely prohibited”. He said the administration might “celebrate the right to free speech and expression” but could not “turn a blind eye towards reasonable restrictions that must be upheld to ensure that the freedom of others is not violated”. He also described the university as “absolutely apolitical”.

The email said students are prohibited from associating the university with “any political organisation, from associating themselves with unofficial organisations seeking to do politics on the campus, and from publicly distributing posters that may be interpreted as disruptive”.

Following this email and in solidarity with the suspended students, around 90 students gathered on campus on the evening of February 15 with several demands such as lifting the ban on political groups and gatherings without prior approval, for the university’s security to undergo sensitisation training, being given a copy of the security’s standard operating procedure, a reevaluation of recent changes to the student conduct code, and definitions of the threshold for ‘fair hearing’ and ‘due notice’, among others.

The students also protested that, while removing Kaur and Nair from the premises, the university security allegedly “dragged” and “manhandled” two female students.

A student participating at the protest told Newslaundry the university must not “jeopardise a safe environment”. But another said Kaur and Nair’s actions were a “slippery slope”. At least five students told Newslaundry there was “growing censorship” at OP Jindal Global University. 

The university does have a history. In November last year, it asked writer and professor Achin Vanaik to “express regret” over his remarks in a closed lecture on Palestine. In December, an FIR was filed against a professor for “outraging the modesty” of women students because she showed them dating profiles during a lecture on gender. 

This article is republished from Newslaundy under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

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