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If your protest is genuine, why would you hide your face: JNU VC Jagadesh Kumar

If your protest is genuine, why would you hide your face: JNU VC Jagadesh Kumar

Jawaharlal Nehru University Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar speaks to The Indian Express on the deadlock between students and the administration, violence on campus and whether he will take a lenient view on students who have been barred from registering for the new session.

Going by your profile that we published recently, there appears to be two kinds of Prof Kumar – Prof IIT Kumar and Prof JNU Kumar. There appears to be the difference between teacher Prof Kumar and administrator Prof Kumar

In both positions, I am very compassionate towards my students and I do everything possible so that my students grow professionally. So there is no difference between both the Kumars.

Certainly not. When you say a big chunk of students, I think about the big chunk of more than 8000 students who are struggling to write their end-semester examinations, who are struggling to register for the winter semester examinations because they are prevented by a small cross-section of students who have been agitating in spite of the fact that the JNU administration has remained very very flexible and considered every suggestion and feedback that has come. I believe that the largest component of our university – be it teachers or the students – they are looking forward to see this university to grow as one of the best universities of the world. And I am with them.

But, the impression remains that you are not giving due weightage to students who are agitating or anti-establishment not only about the campus but also against the government of the day. So, you end up coming out as pro-establishment…

See, we have engaged with agitating students at different levels. It starts right at the wardens level in the Hostel sector, the provosts, the dean of students, the rectors and then all of us have also met many of these student leaders and we have tried to explain the reason why some of these hostel charges have to be enhanced. So, if anyone is saying that we are not engaging with students in a dialogue, the fact show otherwise.

We have given time for them to discuss for six semesters. Because of the issue of Hostel charge enhancement, it was first started in 2016. The first committee to look into all aspects of the hostel expenditure was formed in 2016. And at various levels, within the hostel sector, several discussions took place. It was in September 2019, the first draft was put up on the JNU website inviting suggestions from the students. And it as there for nearly three or four weeks. Then only it was brought to the (Inter-Hall Administration) IHA committee meeting. And that committee consists of 18 Hostel presidents, 18 wardens, the associate deans and the dean of students. So, it is a very transparent and open process. And it is in tune with the JNU ethos of open discussion and debate. So, I fail to see why people say that it was suddenly brought up this issue. Absolutely not.

But, the issue has gone beyond and different student groups have reacted differently. However, the impression is that JNU VC acts differently to different student groups.

For me, all the students are equal. All the faculty members are equal. As an administrator, I do not differentiate students and teachers into camps. Yes, I will definitely stand with the students who want to contribute to the academic growth of the University. And I would definitely not welcome if any students want to indulge in any activity which will affect the academic activity of the university. I am very very happy that the largest number of students are on the side of improving and on the side of looking into the future of the university.

You are framing the issue between those who want to participate in academic activity and those disrupting it. But, in a social science campus issues will also be framed along the Left and Right. There is appears, you are ignoring that frame and in this frame you appear coming out against the Left groups

I always believed that agitating or going on a dharna on some issue is a fundamental right of any of our students. In fact, we have assigned a specific spot in the university where any such dharnas or protests can be held. All the time I have been telling that, you can not trample upon the fundamental right of the other students. And the other students would like to continue their academic studies. They want to excel in their programs. How can you close down the schools, how can you stop your own teachers from entering schools and the labs and lecture halls. I think, that is going beyond the civilised way of protesting. And that is what I have been telling my students that I will defend your right to protest but I can not defend your action of disrupting the life of other students.

From outside, one charge is that Prof Kumar is partisan. When your press statement came out, you emphasized the violence in Periyar Hostel, but the violence in Sabarmati Hostel was like a footnote. It appeared that Prof Kumar is conscious of the pain of one set of students not the other.

I have never used any hostel name in my media interactions. I always emphasised the hostel sectors where violence took place. Yes, first, the security guards might have gone to Periyar Hostel and then they might have moved to the other hostel. That was the sequence of events that happened. But, for us, if violence has taken place, if our students were injured in that, our heart goes out to them. I have always emphasised that violence is never the answer to find solution to our grievances. We need to sit across the table and find solutions.

(Inputs from The Indian Express)

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