There is no need to go over all that has happened at JNU over the last several months. There are several versions of what happened. It appears that there was violence by several rival groups against others. We could get lost in who started it and who responded and whether the response was commensurate. That would keep us in mutual recriminations which is the present state of affairs and one that will not allow us to break out of the mess we find ourselves in.
We must get past our past with an eye on the future and find a solution to the problem and a way forward that would be fair and just to all concerned, that is quick to administer and that might set an example. First, we must address the fact that student politics in some of our universities has gone out of control and these universities have come to be seen as breeding grounds for wannabe politicians.
We find young students (who are to be our future leaders) behave consistently with what we see on the national stage where violence has become an accepted way of expressing opposition to the government of the day. It is often argued that the government is to blame for this state of affairs because it does not otherwise listen to the grievances of the people and that is also a truism. However, such arguments imply that the democratic processes we have given ourselves are insufficient and that violence is therefore an acceptable way of redressing grievances.
These arguments are advanced by the very people who swear by our Constitution. If such arguments are valid then the government’s response by State violence can also be likewise justified. We are then in the same place where we have always been. There can be no breakout for us. We must think of a new India. Universities are meant primarily for students to study and learn. They are not meant to be the breeding grounds for politicians. That might also happen but is not their primary purpose.
Most of our technical institutes and most of our reputed colleges do not have unions from where politicians have emerged. Rather, they are the places from where our business and industry leaders have emerged. Hence, all unions in all universities must be told in no uncertain terms that they will not be permitted to even have so much as a say in any academic matter. They would also have no final say in any administrative or financial matters. Thus, they would have no say in how many PhD students a professor would be permitted to take under him.
While they may be heard on administrative and financial matters, they would have no final say in them. They must understand that they are not competent to take any decision on academic matters and that since they have a vested interest in financial matters and little experience of administration, they cannot have the final say. While there is no harm in listening to them on administrative and financial matters (and I would guess that that is how this all might have started), after they have been heard, they must go back to their studies.
If at all they can still raise any such issue, it must be judicially. The assumption they seem to have made that it is only by accepting their demands that the administration can show that it has heard them out must go out of the window. If we agree on this as the way forward, then we can also begin to address the current issue which is how to deal with those who resorted to violence.
That would require the administration to also acknowledge that since the current situation is because of the mindset of the students that anything goes in universities (and for which these students alone are not to blame but successive generations of students and politicians), since the students have agreed to keep out of certain domains in future, that a reasonable way be found out of the current mess. We must also bear in mind that if the approach suggested here is not taken, a lot of time would be spent on identifying these persons and then in prosecuting and/or taking disciplinary action against them.
All that would require very substantial State and private resources and would take up valuable judicial time. A better way would be a reasonable lenient approach that also sends out a message. We would thereby also save the careers of several young persons who have gone astray and who, if harshly dealt with, could cause us more grief in future also. That reasonable way could be to ask all those who resorted to violence to voluntarily come forward and admit their roles and to express contrition on the assurance that they would receive a 2-year suspension from their respective colleges provided they agree not to participate in college politics even upon return and would not be permitted to stay in the hostels (whether they are JNU students or students of other colleges).
No police cases would be pursued against such persons. However, they would also share all their social media and assist the police and the administration in finding others who were responsible for violence and who have not come forward. This will persuade such persons to also come forward and accept this punishment at this time and close this sorry chapter. Furthermore, after one year their cases would be considered for an early end to their suspensions. Those of them who use this period to do one of the forms of social service that are offered to them, would be given such reprieves. This would build a sense of responsibility amongst them and, if successful, might even be made a part of the curriculum. We must heal the scars of our past as we go forward or else, we will forever walk with a limp. That’s no way to compete in a globalized world.
(The writer is a Delhi-based lawyer)