We are a group of students at the University of Michigan who wish to support students and faculty of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in India. Students at JNU have been unable to go to university and function normally, as the right-wing autocratic government of India continues to target their freedom and to transform the space of the university from one that supports dissent and critical thinking, to one that produces nationalists who will support a government that has and continues to colonize and perpetrate violence on its own people.
Students at JNU have recently gone on a total strike and lock-down in order to protest many things that have been happening inside the university as well as outside of it, including cases of sexual harassment that were mishandled by the JNU administration and the disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed. Teachers have gone on hunger strikes periodically but more so in the recent past, while the administration not only refuses to engage in any dialogue with either students or faculty, but also keeps sanctioning them through notices, fines, and ordinances. As we write this, we are flooded with news of dangerous organizational changes underway in institutions of higher education, and of protesting university students being beaten up by the police, arrested, attacked with water canons, and molested, while middle-class Indian citizens, the media, and the government, remain largely silent and wait for one of the last bastions of resistance in the country to die.
We understand all of this as part of the Indian government’s larger project of privatizing universities so that higher education, which is now subsidized for students by the government, becomes even more unaffordable and inaccessible than it already is to the most marginalized among us. In addition to JNU, many universities and colleges such as Delhi University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and Hyderabad Central University are protesting the move of privatization. Especially under attack here are students belonging to the lower castes, for whom university spaces continue to remain hostile at best and fatal at worst, when such spaces even become accessible to them at all. While their access to higher education was already precarious, the policies implemented by the current government and its army of bureaucrats has further aggravated this problem, as a result of which 96% of seats reserved for lower castes and tribes have been left vacant in the academic year 2017-2018 at JNU.
Those of us in universities all over the world who have been active in fighting against the clamping down of our freedom to think and speak critically, as well as the attacks that continue to make the space of universities unsafe for the very bodies of those of us who dare to question or be different, would do well to extend our solidarities to the struggle in India, where university students have been demonized by the media and have become the target for the whole machinery of the State, especially its police.
The Indian government, in collusion with both neo-liberal and right-wing forces, seems to have made up its mind to make the critical thinking student and every space that supports him/her/them disappear. Ultimately, it is the very possibility of being able to dissent and think independently that is at stake in this struggle.
South Asia Solidarity in Michigan (SASMi),
University of Michigan
April 2, 2018.