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Tale of two varsities

Tale of two varsities

Winter has been unkind to the national capital's two premier educational institutions and turn of the calendar has only made it more evident. The student protest against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act in Jamia Milia Islamia University was subject to a severe clampdown by the Delhi Police. Police action against students of the JMI stirred national sentiment as protests spiralled to take a pan-Indian presence. Disturbing footages of police being involved in suppressing student agitation fuelled the anti-CAA sentiment and the December 15 police action became infamous in university's history. Jamia became ground zero for dissent as myriads of posters and wall art thronged the university street exhibiting dissent in all its democratic glory. A month is about to pass and yet not a single FIR has been registered against police brutality. On Monday, when the JMI Vice-Chancellor was surrounded by scores of students enquiring about administration action against the campus violence, a dejected statement came to the fore. The VC asserted that the Delhi Police was not registering an FIR and a report to the government had been filed on the same. On the western side of the capital, some 13 kilometres away, Jawahar Lal Nehru University had been standing in solidarity with the JMI students over police brutality, with their hands full over local protests against administration's fee hike. As the turn of calendar prominently featured incessant protests against CAA and NRC, JNU rocked by an invasion of a masked mob on January 5. The campus witnessed a horrifying presence of masked goons marauding hostels with video footages corroborating the severity of the circumstance as Delhi Police stood guard outside campus gate. Teachers and students were beaten up as the mob vandalised the campus before safely fleeing the scene. More than 20 students and teachers were reported injured as the news sent shivers down the spine of the nation. JNU's violence did not take much time to be touted as a 'Left vs Right' conflict. With polarising debates and videos doing rounds of the internet, Delhi Police initiated an enquiry into the incident. With the investigation update seemingly biased in one's favour, independent investigation by India Today brought more insight to the case. But what remained largely condemnable in both the universities' context was Delhi Police's action. While Jamia VC alleged that Delhi Police entered the campus without permission, absence of an FIR to date is perhaps a big failure of justice for JMI. As for JNU, the police stood guard until VC orders were received prompting any action. The police failed to take suo motto cognisance of controlling violence at first sight and this failure only made them appear complicit in the perpetrated disharmony.

While the JNU teachers' association as well as students' union have demanded the VC's removal, the Jamia administration has been urged by the students to file FIR against police action at the earliest. Delhi's two premier institutions mired in protests and subject to violence but no considerable action to allay student fears. Educational institutions cannot become ground zero for violence, especially state-sponsored. In fact, the state ought to travel the extra length not just to ensure security but come clean on any accusation against the police. Likewise, the JNU violence case demands an expedited investigation to unmask the perpetrators. Both universities fighting for justice must be given the ear they deserve since it is the corridors of educational institutions like JMI and JNU that have given the country some of its most eminent and notable personalities. But perhaps also since it is the universities where the future of India resides. With JMI and JNU being distressingly driven to streets over their respective unfortunate events, it is incumbent upon the administration and the Central government to make them comfortable. Extending a dialogue, initiating a discussion or inviting feedback from protesting students would serve more than pursuing measures to curb dissent. Students do not have agendas for unrest. Their dissent must be heard and tackled, not evaded. The present quagmire is not opposition versus government over a pressing issue like CAA, it is dissent not being addressed by a democratic government. And, students are perhaps the purest form of that dissent, without any vested interest for agitation, thronging the streets and expressing concern over government actions and intentions. It would not take negligible police presence, no curfew orders and no violence if the government of the day can have a dialogue with the students over their concerns. Dialogues have resolved the greatest conflicts and there is every reason for the government to earnestly address concerns of its citizens through one.

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