Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University is in turmoil yet again. After an uproar that started in February as six students were charged by the police with sedition, the campus is now witnessing simultaneous hunger strikes by two rival groups.

The hunger strikes by the Bharatiya Janata Party-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarathi Parishad as well as the progressive JNU Students' Association are against the punishment meted out by a university High Level Enquiry Committee to more than 15 students for their involvement an event related to Kashmir on February 9 at which slogans alleged to be anti-national were chanted.

Most students have been awarded disciplinary fines ranging from Rs 10,000-Rs 20,000. While most of those charged belong to the Left parties on the campus, the ABVP's Saurabh Sharma, who is also a joint-secretary of the JNUSU, has been asked to pay a Rs 10,000 fine.

But extraordinary punishment was reserved for the alleged organisers of the event. Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar who was jailed on charges of sedition, has been asked to pay a fine of Rs 10,000. However, his fellow student Umar Khalid has been rusticated from the university for the upcoming monsoon semester and has been fined Rs 20,000, ostensibly because of the “very serious” nature of the charges against him.

The harshest punishment has been reserved for PhD student Anirban Bhattacharya. His name apparently appeared on the posters of the February 9 event and he has been charged with similar offences to Khalid, according to the university order. But, instead of being fined, he been rusticated from July 15 and barred from the campus for five years starting July 25. reviewed the punishment orders for both Khalid and Bhattacharya and found that the charges against the two are almost identical even though they are punished differently. Among other things, they have been charged with:

  •   Providing false information about the nature of the February 9 event.  
  •   Arousing communal, caste or regional feeling or creating disharmony among students.  
  •   Colluding in entry of unauthorised persons on the campus.  
  •   Violation of discipline and conduct in view of the vice chancellor.  

Even though this punishment could severely hurt Bhattacharya’s academic career and derail several years of work he has already done on his thesis, the researcher said that he is not bothered.

“We do not recognise this committee or their findings,” Bhattacharya said. “If one considers the punishment, I won’t be able to give my viva but this is bigger than that. It is unjustified to bar someone from entering the campus when they have spent over a decade here. Whosoever is in a position to stop me from entering in my own university?”

Bhattacharya expressed his anger at the last sentence of his punishment order which warns that “anyone giving shelter” to him shall “invite disciplinary action”.

“It is complete criminalisation of people who dare to think, read, talk or question anything on the campus,” he said. “The punishment order doesn’t state why the action is different for different people if the offences are the same. Everyone’s punishments are arbitrary – not just mine.”

This was echoed by Kanhaiya Kumar on Tuesday when he rejected the findings of the committee and called it an “undemocratic” set-up.

“We have rejected the so called high-level enquiry committee right from the day it was set up as an undemocratic and biased one so there is no point accepting the punishment meted out to us on basis of its findings,” Kumar told reporters.

The students on the campus are now launching an indefinite hunger strike to protest against the punishment. Meanwhile, the students’ union has already claimed that none of those charged will pay fine or vacate their hostels.

Even as students decide their course of action, their professors teachers have sprung into their defence. On Tuesday, the JNU Teachers’ Association called a demonstration against the punishment orders and are considering other forms of protest.

Ayesha Kidwai, a Professor at the Centre of Linguistics said that Bhattacharya has primarily been charged because of “vengeance”. “They [campus authorities] have a desperate desire to harm someone for life and he is a sitting duck,” she said. sent emails to JNU’s Vice Chancellor, Registrar as well as Dean of Students asking for clarifications on how the punishments were decided but they went unanswered. The university's public relations officer declined to comment.