Imagine this: the government tells you that a new Bill was framed, discussed and approved in both houses of Parliament and has now come into effect. But you know for a fact that the Bill was not discussed in the lower house because you were there, and it wasn’t presented in the upper one because Parliament was no longer in session. Still, the government expects you to accept the new law unquestioningly.
This analogy might help readers understand the gap between the Jawaharlal Nehru University administration’s claims about the mandatory attendance policy and the facts on the ground. As I’ve tried to explain before, the “lower house” in JNU’s decision-making pyramid did not discuss, let alone approve, an attendance policy for the university’s students. I know because I was there. But if you don’t trust me, the Vice Chancellor’s own nominee to the Academic Council, Madhu Kishwar also tweeted to the same effect when she received the minutes that so thoroughly misrepresented what was discussed at the meeting . The meeting of the “upper house” or Executive Council in which the administration says the policy was approved, was cancelled the day it was to meant to take place.
It would be unethical not to oppose a policy that was pushed through in this way. Even if the marking of attendance is a relatively harmless thing to demand, allowing this kind of decision-making to go unchallenged carries grave risks. In the weeks and months that have followed, it seems that the attendance policy was only a test-run for other more thoroughgoing changes that are being planned. What else can explain the disproportionate and even frantic response of the administration to the JNU faculty’s questioning of the policy’s value and efficacy or its pointing out of its flaws? When I was dean of a school at JNU, I received increasingly shrill circulars each week, sometimes imploring but mostly demanding obedience to this rule and threatening dire consequences.
Well, the consequences have begun to unfold. Nine of us, chairpersons of departments or deans of schools, have been removed from our administrative positions while a committee mulls further punishment for us. Our replacements are sometimes colleagues from entirely unrelated fields, but all are known for their closeness to the current administration. What this means is that future minutes of Academic Councils will no longer need to be fudged. The entire body will be composed of members in agreement, and we can be assured of the imposition of rules and conditions that we cannot even imagine today.
When I attended the 144th Academic Council Meeting three months ago, I was never given an opportunity to speak and couldn’t make my voice heard, but at least I could see what happened at the meeting and how its minutes lied. Now that so many colleagues and I have been thrown out, it is clear that the administration doesn’t want people to even bear witness to what they do.
Kavita Singh was, until recently, dean of the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University.