A total of 379 scientists and academics, both from within the country and abroad, wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru University vice-chancellor Jagadesh Kumar on Wednesday, saying the university had failed to protect its students and uphold freedom of speech on the campus. JNU is at the centre of a massive ideological and political upheaval after a student protest condemning the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru blew up into a stringent crackdown by the Centre, widespread police action and a raging debate on the meaning of nationalism.
The academics' letter to Kumar said that students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested unfairly. The letter added that it was "disturbing..that the JNU administration appears to have defended and aided these repressive actions by the police, rather than defending the students who were involved in a non-violent activity." Moreover, the signatories said that while they were themselves divided on the matter of Guru's hanging, they were "unanimous that students should have the right to freely discuss this issue".
The letter called the right to debate "a basic pillar of academic ethics", and added that by condemning the students' actions as anti-national, the university's management has shown "a complete lack of appreciation of the concept of academic freedom". They claimed that JNU's administration has failed to protects its students who are under attack from senior members of the government.
The academics go on to say that in a multicultural country like India, there is no one idea of nationalism or what it means to be anti-national, but that a plurality of views should be accommodated. They end by appealing to the university's management to take "urgent corrective steps to ensure that the police releases the arrested students".
Earlier in the day, academics from around the world, including eminent intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Homi Bhabha and Judith Butler, joined the chorus of voices against the Centre's action at JNU in two letters separate letters.