SPACE FOR DISSENT
JNU | ESTABLISHED IN 1966
BIRTH OF THE IDEA
What Cambridge and Oxford are to the UK, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is to India. Its liberal ethos, egalitarian learning environs and freedom to openly debate have placed it in a class of its own. The bill for the establishment of JNU was placed in the Rajya Sabha on September 1, 1965, by the then education minister M.C. Chagla. In the discussion that followed, Bhushan Gupta, MP, said that this should not be just another university; new faculties should be created, including one for scientific socialism. Another thing the university could ensure was accessibility to students from weaker sections of society. The JNU Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on November 16, 1966, and the JNU Act came into force on April 22, 1969. Established as a tribute to the first prime minister of India, the university was formally inaugurated by then president V.V. Giri on Nehru’s birthday on November 14, 1969, also the birth centenary year of Mahatma Gandhi. G. Parthasarathy was its first vicechancellor, Moonis Raza its founder-chairman and rector. The institution has worked towards fostering the composite culture of the country through departments for the study of languages, arts and Indian culture. Essentially a researchoriented university, it makes special provision for integrating courses in humanities, social science as well as science and technology. It also promotes interdisciplinary studies.
WHY WE NEED JNU
Freedom of speech and expression are at the heart of Indian democracy. JNU has a number of students’ groups, some even affiliated to mainstream political parties, and all of them swear by this right. Hence the recent confrontations on the campus. The common minimum draw is the freedom to voice ideas. The faculty plays a seminal role in this process.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
From the student-administration fracas over the commemoration of Afzal Guru’s hanging to the disappearance of its student Najeeb Ahmad and now its vice chancellor Jagdesh Kumar’s suggestion that a battle tank be placed in the campus to honour its students in the armed forces, JNU has become a rallying point for liberals as much as it is a red rag for the right wing. The road ahead for JNU lies in leveraging its traditional strengths that lie in the quality of its faculty, students and infrastructure. As V-C Kumar says, what is needed most is to take the knowledge the university imparts to society to help it face challenges. There is a definite push to tap hitherto untouched areas. An important component is to teach students how to develop entrepreneurial skills. Another aspect is the push to bridge the gap between social studies and the sciences: having been renowned for social science studies, the varsity is instituting engineering and management courses which will compulsorily require studies in social sciences. Newer areas such as nanoscience and molecular medicine are also being offered.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT Student leader Kanhaiya Kumar addresses the media as Romila Thapar and Harbans Mukhia look on