The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), one of the most prestigious universities and politically charged educational campuses of India, is going to witness the students’ union election on Thursday, 1st March 2012. The JNU Student’s Union (JNUSU), like JNU, has the credit of providing the best political leadership for various political groups, ranging from the extreme Left to the extreme Right, to centre, liberal, subaltern and various independent movements. Hence, this election is considered an important event in political circles.
This time around, the election is happening after a period of nearly 4 years and there are 10 candidates contesting for the post of the union president. In 2008, the Supreme Court stayed the elections, citing violations of the Lyngdoh committee\\\’s recommendations on students\\\’ union elections in educational institutions. On December 8th last year, the Court lifted the stay as an interim measure and gave certain exemptions, for instance, it increased the maximum age limit for M Phil/ PhD students from 28 to 30 years; there is now no requirement for class attendance to contest elections, and photocopied material is also allowed in the campaign. But there are some groups in the campus, who are not satisfied with the directives. And rightly so, since there isn’t anything new in these interim measures. And these groups have either called for a boycott of the elections or for supporting independent candidates who are contesting under the banner of “Struggle Committee Against Lyngdogh, Privatization and Brahmanism”.
However, there is an environment of elections everywhere in the campus; students are full of enthusiasm, which can be seen even among those who categorise themselves as ‘apolitical’. Many seniors and ex-students believe this is because the election is happening after a gap of nearly 4 years and most of the students, especially new-comers, will be witnessing it for the first time. Tuesday late night witnessed a heated presidential debate, an event often compared with the presidential debate of the United States of America. Like previous years, this year as well, a lot of people from outside the campus came to hear the debate, though few, including me, were disappointed after listening to the speeches made this year. A senior student and a previous office bearer of JNUSU whispered in my ears, “dekh rahe hain na kitna standard gir gaya hai” (do you see how much have the standard of (speeches) fallen this time).
It is not only the question of the speeches not being up to ‘the standard’, there are other things as well which are not well. Unlike previous years, any student or every student can’t contest the election. The impact of the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations can be easily seen. To contest elections, one has to be of a certain age in accordance with the course one is pursuing; leaders of political parties or noted activists, scholars can’t be called to deliver lectures/speeches by contesting candidates during the election period. Due to this age bar, there are aspirants whose candidature has been rejected. According to these ‘rejected’ candidates, Lyngdoh committee\\\’s recommendations, which claim to wipeout the use of 3 M’s (Money, Muscles and Mal-practices) essentially promote exclusion and it is anti-Dalit/OBC and Minorities in its nature.
Meet Jitendra Kumar, better known as Jeetu in campus, a student of BA (Persian) first year, belonging to the Scheduled Caste (SC) community. He is from a remote village of Gaya district in Bihar. His candidature for the post of President has been turned down, citing the reason of age limitation as per the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendation. The maximum age limit for BA students to contest the election is 22 years and Jeetu is 30 years old. But Jeetu has his own reason to cite, which is valid and simple. “For various positions in Govt. offices to Universities, UPSC to Peon, there are age relaxations for the candidates belonging to SC/ST/OBC. However, this is denied in the elections under the Lyngdoh committee recommendation,” says Jeetu. “This is a well-known fact that students from under-privileged backgrounds often reach higher academic positions rather later in comparison to general students. Therefore, the age limit is a serious assault on the democratic space of marginalized individuals and curtails equal opportunity,” adds Jeetu.
Jeetu cites his own example. He first came to JNU 10 years back in 2002 and availed admission for BA Japanese, in the School of Languages (SL). But he had to drop out because completing it because of economic constraints and not being able to comprehend the course. “It took me 10 years to comeback despite all odds. And for this I have done all sorts of work. How many students would have to go through this?,” asks Jeetu. He says, “This is an irony that students from under-privileged societies are eligible for admission with relaxation but they are being stopped to develop leadership”. It can be noted that according to a report released last year by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the School of Languages have the highest number of drop-outs. The reasons given are no different from the one cited by Jeetu in his own case. “There are no efforts to help the students from deprived communities to make them up to the mark. Remedial classes are only for name sake,” alleges a Student activist.
But Jeetu is not the only one who has been denied to contest the elections. There are others. According to a modest estimate, there are around 30% students who can’t contest election and none of them have criminal background. Md. Salim is a Madarsa graduate, from Mau, one of the remote and educationally backward districts of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Incidentally, he is also a student of BA (Persian), though in final year at the SL, JNU. Salim, 23 years, is an activist of All India Students Federation (AISF) who filed his nomination for the post of councilor, SL. His candidature was rejected citing the reasons of age limitation as per the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendation. Here again, it can be noted that students from Madarsa backgrounds, complete their higher secondary much later as compared to those who have come from school backgrounds. The degree of Almiyat/Fazilat (mostly equivalent to higher secretary), offered by Madarsa’s require more time for completion.
Sudhanshu Ranjan, a JNU student and President of JNU AISF says, “the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations are exclusionary and anti-minority”. Like Jeetu, he asserts, “it is a procedural denial to develop leadership qualities among students from deprived communities”. The cases are pending before the grievance redressal committee as both the candidates has approached the JNU administration but it seems there is no avail, at least this time. Mritunjay, an activist of Students for Resistance (SFR), which has given the call to boycott elections because of Lyngdoh, says, “this was bound to happen as Lyngdoh committee recommendations ensures that most of the students of the deprived sections are not eligible to contest the election”. He also claims that JNUSU election under Lyngdoh is not a struggle rather surrender. “So there is no point taking part in this election when it excludes a large number of students from contesting, “explains Mritunjay.
The stand taken by SFR may be ‘extreme’ but the simple fact is that as of now, Jeetus and Salims can’t contest because Lyngdodh allow nahi karta !
(Mahtab Alam is a Delhi based civil rights’ activist and journalist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)