Thinking Minds Inc.

Re­cent con­tro­ver­sies apart, JNU re­mains an equal op­por­tu­nity provider for in­de­pen­dent thinking and re­search

India Today - - GENERAL - By Sid­dhartha Rai

ONCE TUCKED AWAY IN A RE­MOTE CORNER of Delhi amid the un­du­lat­ing ridges of the Araval­lis, the Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity, bet­ter known just as JNU, to­day is in the thick of things, ide­o­log­i­cally as well as ge­o­graph­i­cally. Prid­ing it­self on be­ing the only cen­tral univer­sity in the coun­try that is re­search-ori­ented, not just dol­ing out de­grees, it is of­ten de­rided by ad­ver­saries for pre­sum­ing to think that any thought process in the coun­try be­gins here.

Over the years, the var­sity has grown into an or­ganic be­ing with a life of its own. The or­ganic unity of the cam­pus is not just phys­i­cal—con­tained in its many small dhabas, bar­ber shops and can­teens—but also in the unique stu­dent-fac­ulty re­la­tion­ship, a re­con­fig­ured guru-shishya re­la­tion­ship as it were.

Be­ing a po­lit­i­cally con­scious cam­pus that be­lieves ‘JNU thinks to­day that In­dia thinks to­mor­row’, the var­sity has been in the mid­dle of sev­eral con­tro­ver­sies in re­cent times, be it Afzal Guru’s com­mem­o­ra­tion in Fe­bru­ary last year that sparked off a de­bate on azadi to the dis­ap­pear­ance of its stu­dent Na­jeeb Ahmed in Oc­to­ber. But the univer­sity seems to have sur­vived the bat­ter­ing to its im­age, emerg­ing as the best univer­sity of In­dia.

In March this year, it bagged the ‘Vis­i­tor’s Award’ for the best cen­tral univer­sity in the coun­try. The hon­our, which was handed by Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee to vice chan­cel­lor M. Ja­gadesh Ku­mar, was in­sti­tuted in 2015, to en­cour­age a spirit of healthy com­pe­ti­tion in uni­ver­si­ties. As many as nine cen­tral uni­ver­si­ties, in­clud­ing Jamia Mil­lia Is­lamia, the Ali­garh Mus­lim Univer­sity and Ba­naras Hindu

Univer­sity, were in con­tention. The uni­ver­si­ties were judged on sev­eral pa­ram­e­ters such as stu­dent­fac­ulty ra­tio, re­search out­put, univer­sity rank­ing and patents filed.

The cur­rent univer­sity dis­pen­sa­tion, led by its IITian V-C re­flects a new en­ergy. “We have a high con­cen­tra­tion of out­stand­ing fac­ulty and bright stu­dents,” says Ku­mar. “We also have good au­ton­omy in run­ning the univer­sity. Our aca­demic pro­grammes and syl­labus, teach­ing and eval­u­a­tion method­olo­gies as well as the se­lec­tion process are de­cided by the univer­sity. We also try and take the knowl­edge we im­part to so­ci­ety to help it face chal­lenges. A cru­cial com­po­nent, there­fore, is to teach stu­dents en­tre­pre­neur­ial skills.”

Aca­demic vi­brancy apart, the so­cio-cul­tural at­mos­phere on the cam­pus too is very alive. In­di­vid­ual hos­tels host ‘hos­tel nights’ where stu­dents from other hos­tels are in­vited. Noth­ing il­lus­trates the spirit of unity and rev­elry bet­ter than Holi on the cam­pus. A ‘chaat sam­me­lan’ in which stand-up comics from across the var­sity show­case their tal­ent cul­mi­nates in cel­e­bra­tions on the Jhelum lawns.

The pres­i­den­tial de­bate be­fore the stu­dent elec­tions is another much-an­tic­i­pated event on the cam­pus. Stu­dents of var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal out­fits cross ide­o­log­i­cal swords at the event to sway vot­ers in their favour. In­ter­est­ingly, JNU has its own con­sti­tu­tion, ac­cord­ing to which no printed ma­te­rial and posters are al­lowed on the cam­pus. JNU pol­i­tics, there­fore, is hand-crafted in a sense. Stu­dent-ac­tivists paint their own posters to ad­ver­tise their ide­ol­ogy.

“JNU is un­like other uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges of In­dia,” says Riteish Ku­mar, a PhD stu­dent at the School of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. “Be­ing a com­pletely res­i­den­tial cam­pus, it gives stu­dents a chance to bond as a com­mu­nity of their own. All are equal. All sur­vive on the same food, same books and thrive on the same teach­ers. The cam­pus gives a fair chance to all.”

So­cial hi­er­ar­chy is left strictly out­side the gates. Stu­dents from the most hum­ble back­grounds join those from priv­i­leged back­grounds in a spirit of in­quiry. In­side the class­rooms, as well as out­side them, the dis­cus­sions are egal­i­tar­ian, car­ry­ing on long into the night over chai and egg paran­thas at Ganga dhaba or else­where.

Not sur­pris­ingly, JNU boasts il­lus­tri­ous alumni. Dubbed a fac­tory for civil ser­vants, it counts for­eign sec­re­tary Subrah­manyam Jais­hankar among them. It has also been alma mater to sev­eral lead­ing po-

lit­i­cal fig­ures, among them for­mer Union min­is­ter Digvi­jaya Singh, min­is­ter of state (in­de­pen­dent charge) Nir­mala Sithara­man, CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat. Psephol­o­gist Yo­gen­dra Ya­dav is from JNU as is jour­nal­ist P. Sainath, and ac­tor Swara Bhaskar.

Join­ing their ranks most re­cently is the iron-spir­ited Um­mel Kher. Af­flicted with brit­tle bone dis­ease and aban­doned by her family for hav­ing am­bi­tions, Kher lived and stud­ied in a JJ clus­ter be­fore join­ing JNU and crack­ing the civil ser­vice exam this year, rank­ing 420th on the merit list.

“All are equal in JNU. All sur­vive on the same food, the same books and thrive on the same teach­ers. The cam­pus gives a fair chance to all” RITESH KU­MAR PhD, SCHOOL OF IN­TER­NA­TIONAL STUD­IES

CHANDRADEEP KU­MAR

READ­ING LIST The li­brary at JNU

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