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‘Suffocating’: One of India’s top liberal universities comes under attack

Named after India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru University is one of India’s premier liberal universities, a hotbed of strong opinions and left-leaning values, with its graduates filling the upper echelons of academia and government.

But for the Hindu nationalists who hold power in India, universities and other similar institutions are dangerous nests of “anti-India” ideas. They are trying to suppress these ideas.

The masked man has onslaught Jinan University campus and attacked students, shouting slogans associated with far-right Hindu groups. supporter The right-wing ruling party, which has been appointed to the administration, suspended some students for participating in protests and imposed new rules in December. Restrictions on demonstrationsprofessor rejected Promotions Question government policies.

“It’s suffocating,” said political science student Anagha Pradeep, who criticized Prime Minister Narendra for protesting her housing conditions and helping with screenings, “and you can’t learn in fear.” Modi’s documentary received a warning from Jinan University.

The pressure on Jinan University is part of a broader effort to silence dissenting voices — from media organizations, human rights groups, think tank -Right-wing Hindus pursue the cause of transforming India into an explicitly Hindu nation.

Soon after Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014, members of its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), launched a campaign targeting elite universities across the country, taking steps such as sending university students to Police complained about professors teaching related topics they didn’t like.

Hindu nationalists, seeking to uproot the secular foundations Nehru laid for India, are pushing to replace the traditional intellectual values ​​of universities with their own conservative ideas. The government deleted chapters on India’s past from textbooks. muslim ruler and silence skeptical researchers. fake-science Promoted by right-wing officials.

“We want students to understand that patriotism is the most important thing,” said Abhishek Tandon, who has been the head of the student wing of the RSS in New Delhi for 21 years.

He said his organization “will not allow anti-India forces to engage in activities on campus that are against the integrity and unity of India”.

Sumit Ganguly, an India expert at Indiana University, said the movement by Hindu nationalists, including the appointment of education officials aligned with the right-wing government, could make academic freedom a “relic and a quaint concept” in India.

“What we are seeing now is individuals within institutions who lack appropriate professional qualifications but share ideological preferences with the ruling party,” he said.

Some of these officials effusively praised their government donors. Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit, Vice-Chancellor of Jinan University since 2022 Call Mr Modi Ms. Pandit and the university’s public information officer did not respond to requests for comment.

Jinan University was established in 1967, covering hundreds of acres in secluded woodland southwest of New Delhi. It has more than 7,000 students and about 600 professors and lecturers. Its founders, including a rural American sociologist, proposed the creation of a model research university that would be an incubator for debate and dissent, free from government interference.

In 1975, when the government declared an internal emergency—a particularly dangerous moment for Indian democracy—students in universities protested against the suspension of basic rights Face deportation, arrest and imprisonment.

Even after that painful period, students still found space to express dissent in the decades that followed. “No one suffered because of any ideology,” said Kavita Krishnan, an activist who came to campus as a student in the early 1990s. “Its diversity is its strength.”

The current crackdown began in 2016, two years after Modi took office, when his government appointed electrical engineering professor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar as chancellor of the university.

Within days of his appointment, around a dozen students were charged with sedition after they were accused of displaying slogans in support of the “rebellion.” Kashmiri man hanged India accused of deadly attack on parliament.Although some videos of students were found to have been manipulatedIndia’s toxic social media space and its politicians have found enemies among students and professors in universities.

Mr. Kumar ended a long tradition of consultation with students and staff and, according to teachers and students, rescinded a long-standing policy that encouraged applications from lower castes and other disadvantaged groups.

To instill “patriotism” and military pride, he invited retired soldiers to campus and proposed setting up a Main battle tanks on display.

In January 2019, nearly 50 members of the Federal Parliament wrote to the Minister of Education complaining that universities were being “destroyed”.

In recent years, students with ties to far-right groups have physically attacked other students for their liberal and secular views, hitting them with sledgehammers, iron bars and bricks. Police officers in riot gear during a wave of student protests in 2019 against a law that opponents called anti-Muslim attack A library At another university, students were beaten with bamboo sticks.At another university, officials were fired stun grenade In the student office.

After masked men stormed the Jinan University campus in January 2020 and attacked students, university alumni who were officials in Modi’s government were quick to condemn the violence. But a politician from his own party later defended the attack, saying the campus was “a center of sex and sexuality”. “Thousands of drugs are produced every day from used condoms and empty wine bottles.

Last year, members of the right-wing group RSS tried to intimidate students by carrying out the following orders: procession There were sticks and saffron flags – symbols of Hinduism – on campus.

Nazar Mohammad MohideenA Jinan University student who campaigned for affirmative action and was a follower of anti-caste revolutionaries angered by Hindu nationalists. He said he was declared a security threat to other students and banned from the lab by professors.

When he tried to save a portrait of the anti-caste revolutionary, members of the RSS student wing beat him up in a scuffle, Periyar”, he said. (The organization denies the allegation.) In October, Mohideen received a letter from the university saying he could no longer pursue his Ph.D., a decision he is challenging in court.

“My fight against oppression,” Mohideen said, “turned me into a clear enemy.”

Avinash Kumar, a representative of the Jinan University Teachers Association, said the right-wing movement against the university had changed its character.

“Our campus helps fulfill the true motto of education,” he said, “empowering students across castes and classes and breaking down social hierarchies.” But he added that these values ​​are antithetical to “what the ruling regime now stands for. “

“Any space where this environment thrives, they’re going to destroy it,” he said.

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