Millennium Post

Democracy at intellectual grassroots

It is expected and must also be encouraged that deeper understanding, critique, and evolution of potential public policies could come from the cradles of higher education. Universities are not only institutions dishing out degrees and certificates but are environments infused with the possibility of any kind of learning which will come handy for the functionings of the world outside of university campuses. When students (and people in general) are aware and informed about the relevant things affecting their surroundings and society at large, they can become capable to easily challenge the government should the need be. Renowned for its pronounced ideological bent and likewise grooming of individuals, Jawaharlal Nehru University is known to be rebellious in its intellectualised ways; its student's union being the very face of it. As the student body went to poll, discussions on an entire gamut of national and international issues marked the presidential debate at this university preceding the elections. A candidate's speech began with an emphatic 'Vande Mataram' and went on to raise more pertinent student-centric issues including lack of hygiene in hostels. This example is a very clear representation of what political awareness ought to be like: more than wielding power over a group of people, it is about the issues directly impacting them. Apart from the immediate concerns, discussion on Article 370 figured very prominently in the Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union (JNUSU) presidential debate. Likewise, another candidate spoke to awaken an initially indifferent audience by criticising the Centre's 'fascism'. It was not long ago when Kahanaya Kumar was charged with sedition for voicing his opinion loudly on a matter which instantly branded him 'anti-national'. In an environment of intellectual frenzy, 'anti-national' or even 'national' for that matter are primarily matters of intellectual ruminating and not those of political action. Condemning the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 and debunking claims that 'Kashmir' was a free state are arguments not from the perspective of engaging with any distant political situation, but foreseeing the possibilities of similar things happening closer to us, besides the humanitarian angle. Insisting that the voice of all (Kashmiri people as meant in the said context) be heard and none be silenced is the fundamental awareness of one's political rights and also its implications that go far beyond an individual. The elections for the student union of JNU could well be seen as a prototype of the general elections of the country.

Along with raising pertinent issues of mob lynching against Muslims and Dalits and bringing afresh to memory the unfortunate case of Rohit Vemula, a very basic concern over clean air and healthy physical environment, which is these days stacked away in the category of international news, bringing up Amazon fires was a necessary topic raised by a rival party candidate as it exemplifies the grim picture of what a blinkered business-oriented government could do to the world with its apathy towards the environment. New Education Policy, reservation, persisting and profoundly deep-rooted caste issues are matters closer to home and a clearer understanding and awareness of these are more than necessary to rectify matters at first the social level, and subsequently the political and national levels. Remembering the permanently silenced voices of dissent of the likes of Gauri Lankesh and Kalburgi who died fighting for the common causes they believed in, deaths of Akhlaq Khan, Junaid, and Pehlu Khan will always be reminders of how the unsuspecting innocent people bear the brunt of a government that forgets that it must cater to its people unconditionally before and after everything else. Concerning oneself with matters of national priorities, the matters of economy, technology, food security, and social issues as much local concerns as they are national as technology, food, security, and economic well-being cannot be the prerogative of just few but should belong to all. This also brings to the fore the concern for marginalised communities which tend to be cut-off from the mainstream. Integrating the marginalised groups in the mainstream is a fundamental step towards enabling greater equality. As a university, JNU is an inspiring example of how understanding society and research in social studies is crucial to uplifting the nation at large. A robust social system with freely available technological advancement in a well-to-do economy is crucial to reduce the gap between the haves and the have-nots. And for this, the freedom of expression is undeniable and irreplaceable.

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