Let them eat Kaju Barfi: JNU VC gives Holi sweets to students on Day 3 of hunger strike, refuses 5-minute meeting

Eleven striking students approached the VC to request for a meeting, he refused to listen and instead offered them sweets and tea, alleged the striking student unionists
The JNUSU decided to approach the VC and request a meeting in the spirit of Holi but he refused. Photo Credit: Apeksha Priyadarshini, FB
The JNUSU decided to approach the VC and request a meeting in the spirit of Holi but he refused. Photo Credit: Apeksha Priyadarshini, FB

It has been over three days since 11 JNU students decided to go on the hunger strike to protest various policies of the administration. Today, being Holi, the fasting students approached the JNU VC, Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar to request him for at least a five-minute conversation in the spirit of the festival. He and his wife, offered the fasting students sweets and tea and wished them a 'Happy Holi'.

Mamidala allegedly didn't pay any attention to a word of what they were saying and just continued to offer them sweets. "It is such an insult to the fasting students. While these students have been continuously fasting for the last 60 hours, it is utterly shameful to see the RSS-affiliated groups on campus revelling. Nobody even wanted to hear what these starving students had to say," the JNUSU said in a statement.

Among the 11 students who are on the hunger strike, one is former JNUSU President, Geeta Kumari, former Joint Secretary, Shubhanshu Singh, the current Vice President, Sarika Chaudhary, Convenors Aishe Ghosh and Kriti Roy. The remaining six are Mrityunjay Kumar, Mayur Kumar, Vatya Raina, Sourya Majumder, Surya Prakash and Akhilesh Kumar who are all from different courses.

The list of demands that the students are making are issues that the JNUSU and others have been fighting and protesting against/for for years now. They have requested appointments with the VC, gone on strikes, taken to the streets, some have FIRs lodged in their names, some have even gone to jail but this is their last resort, the students say. "The new prospectus and admission policy was the last straw," the striking students say. From the way that the VC offered them sweets today, it seems as though three days of hunger hasn't ruffled any feathers, the students feel. 

Vatya Raina, a third year BA student who is the youngest in the group said, "The fees being fixed at Rs 283 is the reason why so many of us can afford to study here. A world-renowned campus like JNU. We are able to study with this fees because those before us fought for us, so I feel it is my responsibility to fight for those who are going to come after me," the Spanish department student said.

Being the youngest in the group, I ask her if her parents are not concerned with her decision. "They are. They obviously know I'm hungry and they are worried. But my parents feel that if I'm mentally up for it, then its okay. They know what I'm fighting for and they support me," she said. She's not very hopeful of the VC giving them a chance to talk, especially after the way he treated them earlier today. "He kept saying it was an auspicious day but didn't give two hoots about the fact that we have been starving. But this is our mode of resistance. An indefinite hunger strike is what we've chosen to do, so we'll stick to it no matter how much time it takes. Five, 10 or 20," she said in a determined voice.

Vatya was able to get admission into JNU through the deprivation point system, which grants five extra points to students who are women or come from deprived backgrounds. This is another reason, she feels the need to fight this fight. It is one of the reason why JNUSU Vice President, Sarika Chaudary, feels like she had to participate in this protest too. "I come from a village and it is because of JNU's inclusive policies that I have been able to study here since my undergraduation," she said. After doing a BA in German, Sarika went on to study Economics, a subject she has always loved during her Masters and she is now pursuing an MPhil in the same. "Places like DU are inaccessible to people like me, simply because I would not be able to afford the fees there. The only reason I can study in an esteemed place like JNU, is because the fees is a mere 283 rupees. And it is because of the deprivation points, there more than 50 percent of the students here are women," the student leader said. 

The administration is now going to be charging Rs 12 lakh for a new MBA course and 70,000 for engineering, all this while there is no infrastructure on campus to accommodate prospective students."Bringing in the policies that the VC is planning would mean that education would become inaccessible to students like me from small towns. It is because of the deprivation points and reservation policies, that students get to come here and learn — with dignity and pride. And how can I let that happen?" she questioned. 

This is a larger fight to save education itself and equality in education, Sarika said. 

Shubhanshu Singh, the former Joint Secretary, said that trouble on campus started from the day 'RSS-affiliated Mamidala' took over as the VC. "From shielding sexual harasser Atul Johri to bringing in anti-student policies, the VC has continuously trampled on the democratic structure of the university," Singh explained. "We've lost patience," the former student leader said.

"They're taking decisions without consulting students, not even the teachers. These are policies that affect us! These policies deprive students from backward communities of a quality education. Students like me," he said. Singh is in his third year of PhD, he is not going to apply to JNU again neither is he going to apply anywhere else, "When I get done here, I'm going to find a job and move on with my life. But it is my responsibility to fight — fight for socially and economically deprived students who will come after I've left," he reckons.

The apathy of the administration is not new, so the recent behaviour on Holi, did not shock Singh. "This just goes to show he does not care for students from marginalised communities. They want to snatch away the rights of the deprived. I say this because the VC and other professors who support him say things like students come in through reservation and then chill for three years. They don't think they deserve to be here, so this is not surprising," he feels.

In a live video on FB, the striking students are seen walking slowly towards the VC's office. Even if they haven't eaten, they have smiles on their faces and a myriad of colours all over their clothes and their bodies. The supporting students are campaigning online by publishing the BP, pulse rate, weight loss and other health related information about the students on a fast. But it doesn't seem like they will give up any time soon.

Former JNUSU President Geeta Kumari writes, "To all those who are feeling guilty about celebrating Holi. Don't be. Don't be apologetic about feeling happy. While the others (administration) destroy our dreams, we are fighting so that all of us can have those dreams. For us, people who are on hunger strike and JNU community every struggle is a celebration. None of us should be sad because of the struggle. We dance to our revolution. Enjoy your day today with love and consent."

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