JNU row: Let the young minds be

It's now time to stop the politicisation of these temples of learning for vested interests.

 |  8-minute read |   25-02-2016
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Series of incidents and events in academic institutions of repute across the country - leading up to the ongoing JNU turmoil, have once again highlighted the growing politicisation and degeneration of campus environment at centres of learning in general and institutions of higher learning, in particular.

And the situation has come down to such lows that, at times, a section of students and /or lumpen elements at these campuses with active involvement of outsiders, have arguably started indulging in anti-national activities in utter disregard of the laws of the land and in absolute disrespect for the very institutions that they are part of. This can't be allowed under any pretext, it is completely unacceptable and the government of the day must diligently, lawfully, fairly, non-arbitrarily, appropriately and decisively deal with it, wherever credible evidence lies.

On the other hand, the accused of such charges must submit themselves to judicial process and must stand the test of trial in a court of law and let the court/s determine, decide and administer the justice.

People indulging in any kind of anti-national activities at these campuses, if held to be true, can't be allowed to hide behind freedom of speech/expression or under autonomy of institution. They are accountable to the law of the land. Freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) in the Constitution is not absolute. This fundamental right is a qualified one and is subject to reasonable restrictions as enumerated under Article 19(2).

Also read - How JNU paid dearly for its V-C's silence

With freedoms, cometh some duties and restraints. For instance, interpreting sedition law, Supreme Court, over the years, has held that whenever, the exercise of such freedom by words of disaffection or by any act which creates or attempts to create hatred or enmity against the state resulting in violence or causing public disorder, then, at that moment, such freedom ends and provision of sedition applies.

The speech or expression against the state must be intrinsically dangerous and should be accompanied by violence or public disorder (that was intended), to fall under the ambit of sedition. Therefore, under our constitutional order, any speech or expression that is intended to hurt the sacrosanct concepts of security, sovereignty and integrity of the union and which aims to and results in public disorder or violence, is an absolute NO-NO. This is the law of the land.

Without a doubt, freedom of enquiry and academic autonomy of institution are required for the institution to thrive, for advancement of learning and development of students. But such autonomy is also not absolute… not even when the institution is private funded or unaided.

In essence, institutional freedom means the freedom to appoint faculty, set academic standards and admit students ie who may teach, what may be taught, how it should be taught, and who may be admitted to study.

Also read - FTII to JNU: BJP's Hindu politics has muddied the campus

But academic and institutional autonomy cannot be misunderstood or linked with freedom of speech and expression. Any autonomy goes hand in hand with accountability and responsibility. And there is no freedom from accountability or responsibility under any institutional scheme of things - public or private.

The faculty is governed by the rules of the academic institution and the academic institution, likewise, is overseen and governed by the relevant policies, rules and regulations of the respective governments - at Centre or states.

Further, no academic institution or its rules and regulations can override or go against the laid out public policy of the state - either at Centre or at states. Any compromise with academic standards, academic environment, maladministration, corruption, non-compliance, public order, etc. will attract appropriate central and state statutes and provisions. Period.

On the other hand, such untoward developments are symptoms of a deeper malaise which is the rampant politicisation of academic campuses. These incidents are sending loud and clear messages to political parties and groups across the spectrum - It is now time to STEP BACK and TAKE STOCK of the effect of this malaise on campuses. It is time now to STOP further politicisation and vitiation of these temples of learning for vested interests and ulterior motives.

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It's now time to STOP fighting dirty proxy political battles by manipulating young minds - one against the other and by using the turfs of these academic institutions for selfish and narrow ends. It's now time to STOP meddling in the affairs of the students or in the functioning of students bodies on college and university campuses, from outside.

Let the young minds on campuses discover and figure out the nuts and bolts of student politics and democratic political process themselves. Let the young minds debate, discuss, falter and learn on their own - without getting manipulated by either outside forces or by faculty. Let them be themselves - independent, free and responsible enough to make their own democratic choices, to decide for themselves and to take charge of student welfare/issues in their own way within the given constitutional and institutional framework.

They are there for that very purpose and even if they are imperfect in their political decision making (they being students after all), let them learn and find a way out on their own within the ambit of rules and law. More importantly, this approach will help cleanse student politics at campuses and restore campus sanity as well. This new direction is required and is certainly in national interest.

The same loud messages go out to some in the administration and to some amongst the teaching fraternity on these campuses as well. Hope they are listening.

Also read - Freedom of speech is more about restraint

Imposition of one ideology, one belief system, one narrative or one school of thought in academic institutions, in this day and age, simply cannot work because it not only goes against the constitutional order but also against the ingrained ethos of this land of extraordinary pluralism and rich diversities - multiple narratives, multiple faiths, multiple ideologies, multiple ethnicities and multiple cultures, that this nation is so blessed to have and its citizens so proud to possess.

Parents make huge sacrifices to send their children to these vibrant seats of learning to study, to ask questions and to seek answers, to burn midnight oil, to challenge themselves, to broaden their horizons and understanding of the world, to become responsible citizens and to prepare themselves for a better future but in NO WAY to become mere pawns at the hands of political parties or groups to serve petty political interests on campuses.

Academic institutions are not meant to wage wars of ideologies, or to fight pitched political battles, or to misuse it for illegal or anti-national activities, or to engage in vandalism, indiscipline or violence. They are primarily meant for noble pursuits of knowledge and excellence, for liberating young minds of dogmas, for discussing and debating issues that matter, for sharing and learning from diverse thoughts and experiences of each other, for working hard and challenging one's limits every day and for imbibing explicit values of respect, ethics, integrity and accountability - that are so essential in shaping up and preparing oneself for future life and for making a difference in this competitive civilised world.

Also read - Leftists at JNU pose the gravest danger to India

Moreover, any person or group of persons which engages in physical violence, indulges in vandalism and arson, takes law into its own hands, and makes a mockery of rule of law not only violates the law of the land but also violates the sanctity of Constitution. Such persons not only shame the civilised society but also do a disservice to the nation by their unlawful acts. Violence has no place in democracy and nobody is above the law. Nation is governed by rule of law.

Lastly, if enforcers of law wilfully do not take cognisance of an offence already made or being made and ignore or look the other way round against their mandated duty or if they act arbitrarily or in a prejudiced or discriminatory manner, then it is not merely a dereliction of duty but rule of law becomes a casualty.

Rule of law dictates that no one is above law, enforcement officials are accountable to law, executive action must stand the test of legality, equality before law is enforced in letter and spirit, offenders are treated in accordance with procedure established by law, a fair investigation and a just trial is given to the accused, principal of natural justice must be followed and alleged offender (if found guilty) must be brought to justice within a reasonable period of time.

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Those who are mandated to uphold the law, to enforce rule of law, to aid administration of justice and to protect the dignity and sanctity of Constitution have a much wider role to play in the society. They must be role models to their fellow citizens in respecting and upholding the law of the land and the Constitution. The nation holds them in high esteem and looks up to them for inspiration.

Rule of law MUST PREVAIL in all circumstances because there lies the key to freedom, liberty, unity, peace, strength and progress. It is one of the basic structures of the Constitution. Rule of law must be a living reality to its citizens for the nation and its democracy to prosper and thrive.

[From someone who had the privilege of going to AMU, JNU and DU over a period of three decades, and who takes great pride in being part of these prestigious seats of learning.]


Munawwar Haque Munawwar Haque

The writer is a former senior business executive and now a political commentator.

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