A spectre haunts the Sangh Parivar – the spectre of the free woman, the free student, free speech and the free citizen.

The contents of a “dossier” compiled by 11 Jawaharlal Nehru University teachers in 2015 and submitted to the university’s administration was released to a few journalists recently. In many ways, this dossier indicates that the JNU crackdown was pre-scripted. It names many of the students who have been punished by the JNU administration, and also names many teachers, who are probably next on the Modi government’s “hit list”.

Among the teachers who released the dossier to journalists was Professor Amita Singh, chairperson of the Centre for Law and Governance in JNU. She is notorious for an interview she gave to UP Patrika, where she referred to “a handful of teachers”, who were all “Dalits and Muslims”, as anti-national.

The dossier manages to be both sinister and side-splittingly silly. Sinister because we now have a government and a pliant JNU administration that actually takes it seriously, and having cracked down on students, is also preparing for a witch-hunt against teachers. It’s silly because in the feverish right-wing imagination, sex orgies and sedition go hand in hand.

Fears and frustrations

Sex and alcohol is a pet theme running through the rather less-than-literate dossier. No doubt, the Rajasthan’s condom-counting Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Gyandev Ahuja had also read this dossier and allowed his imagination to run wild.

The dossier says:

 Over one thousand boys and girls students have been fined from Rs 2000/- to Rs 5000/- for consuming alcohol, for indulging in immoral activities in their hostels. On a casual glance at the gates of the hostel one can see hundreds of empty alcohol bottles. Sex workers have been openly employed in hostel messes, where they not only lure JNU girls into their organized racket but also pollute the boys.  

The dossier names a handful of JNU teachers, accusing them of

"actively recruiting young minds in JNU campus and elsewhere by addicting them to night parties/revelries, alcoholism and cash payments to carry forward their agenda through mass campaigns, strikes etc. In this process, JNU has become a den of organized sex racket in which some hostel karmacharis, maid servants, beauty parlours being run in Munirka village and the activists of DSF, DSU, All India Students Association and other rogue elements are coordinating their activities. They have turned the autonomous body like the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment to strike at those students and faculty who do not fall in line with their nefarious agenda."  

The dossier goes on to reveal that while it is concerned for the morality of women students, it isn’t concerned for their safety. The Committee Against Sexual Harassment is branded as a feminist conspiracy to implicate male teachers and students who resist the “nefarious agenda” of sex work and strikes.

One of the authors of the dossier, Hari Ram Mishra, assistant professor in the Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, proposes that hostels be “sanitised”, and for this purpose CCTV cameras be installed in hostels to ensure that women students do not enter men’s hostels.

These comments are far more revealing of the frustrations and fears of the Sanghi mind than of the real life of JNU student activists. The Left activist, as imagined by the dossier, spends nights in raving sex and alcohol orgies – managing, however, to spend the day energetically organising strikes, rallies, writing leaflets and so on.

A former student who visited the JNU campus after Gyandev Ahuja’s remarks was accosted by her former roommate. “How come you never took me to these exciting orgies, didi,” she asked, accusingly, “You only ever invited me to attend public meetings and marches. I missed all the fun!’

Ground realities

The dossier’s allegations are also rather boring, regurgitating fantasies that have been around for decades. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in JNU used much the same tactics to attack the Left in the 1990s when I was a student, helped along by the familiar urban myths about “girls hostels running sex rackets”.

When I first joined JNU, I remember my father being warned by well-wishers not to place his daughter in Ganga Hostel, which, being close to main gate, ran a “sex racket”. Luckily, my dad paid small heed to such warnings. Instead of checking out Ganga Hostel’s arrangements for the policing of his daughter’s morality and virtue, he was remiss enough to content himself with enjoying the company and conversation of Spike, the hostel’s resident black cat, in the visitor’s room as my friend and I went in to claim our room.

Then, I was warned by ABVP activists to stay away from “AISA women”, because they smoked, drank, were feminists, and had “free sex”. “Sounds exciting,” we said, and promptly befriended the AISA women. To our slight disappointment, we found, however, that the life of a Left activist was not one endless round of sex and soma. Instead, we found ourselves writing leaflets with one hand and term papers with the other; spending every spare minute collecting funds for the evening’s leaflet or campaigning room to room; staying up half the night in meetings and University General Body Meetings, and then waking at dawn to ensure people made it on time to a demonstration off-campus or visit libraries.

We never found where the classroom ended and the dhaba or hostel room began. We learnt as much from teachers as from student activists who were among the brightest and best minds on campus. I recall, even in 1993-'94, teachers coming to the Ganga dhaba at night to hear a certain student leader speak, because, as one of them said, “His speeches are as good as the best lectures by many university professors.”

Idea of India

So apart from the wild sexual fantasies, what does the dossier document? It simply puts together posters and leaflets on Kashmir that have been publicly pasted or distributed by student groups or even academic centres on the campus, as well as open appeals against the death penalty, signed by hundreds of eminent citizens including JNU teachers.

JNU is a campus that can be counted on to protest killings of civilians or rapes by the security forces in the North East or Kashmir. It is a campus where Left groups that failed to oppose the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act or Operation Green Hunt or the death penalty, would be punished by voters in Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union elections. But for the authors of the dossier, JNU is “seditious” simply because it allows for and even encourages empathetic discussion of Kashmir or the North East, and it does not impose gendered restrictions on women students.

It is the JNU student movement’s anti-patriarchal commitment that, in December 2012, inspired it to raise the cry of “Bekhauf Azaadi” (fearless freedom) for women. And JNU women – students, teachers, and alumni – are unfazed by the fact that the best the Sangh can come up with against them is the allegation of sexual freedom. On television debates, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramaniam Swamy – just sworn in as Rajya Sabha MP – whenever he lacks rational argument on the issue at hand, has repeatedly resorted to calling me a “Naxalite who has free sex”.

One can only pity the bunch of JNU teachers and the likes of Gyandev Ahuja or Swamy who fear “free sex” – un-free sex is, after all, nothing but rape. The Sangh is terrified of women who are “loose”, who are not tightly bound by patriarchal and caste norms that regulate whom women are allowed to love or marry. The very fact that the normal freedoms of young people appear dangerous and “seditious” to them, says a lot about the kind of India they would like to create.

Kavita Krishnan is a politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, secretary of the All India Progressive Women Association, and a former joint secretary of the JNU Students’ Union.