Published: 14th December 2018
Why JNU's idea of stopping 7000 students from carrying their own books into the library is laughable
The JNUSU has been protesting for a month now over the library budget cut and banning outside books. We explore the comedy of the situation
On Thursday evening, N Sai Balaji, the JNUSU President took a book titled The Resistible Rise of Adolf Hitler - A view from Modi's India inside the university's Dr B R Ambedkar Central Library. Accompanied by hundreds of fellow students, this act was welcomed by applause and chanting of slogans. Now, what is the big deal about a PhD scholar taking a book inside the university's library? Sensibly speaking, there's nothing off about a student who's researching international studies reading a book about a dictator inside a library.
But according to the JNU administration, what Balaji did was a violation of rules, as the university's new rule doesn't permit students to carry any personal book inside the library or any of its reading halls. Seriously.
Previously the university permitted outside and personal books that do not belong to the library inside two of its reading halls. But almost a month ago, it was decided that the entrance to these halls from outside will be closed for 'safety' reasons. So now, the students could only enter these halls through the library which meant that outside books will effectively not be permitted anywhere in the library or its reading halls. The students have been protesting against this move ever since. But now on second thought, the decision and what might have been the notion behind it appears ridiculous.
Also read: JNU slashes library budget by 80 per cent, students can't take outside books to study halls
But first, let's look at some facts. As of 2009, there were 7,304 students in JNU. Even if we were to assume that only 10 per cent of them access the library every day, that would be around 700 students. The library, which is a nine-storey building with a carpet area of about 1 Lakh square feet houses more than 500,000 books. There are 13 staff in the library which includes a librarian, 2 deputy librarians and 10 assistant librarians. Now, the million dollar question is: How on earth are the library staff going to ensure that no student brings a personal book inside the library?
Perhaps they've installed devices that will beep and set off an alarm when a student carrying a personal book enters the library? (That will be pretty cool) Or will the staff go around peeking into every book that is being read? Well, that would save them the trouble of getting a workout, especially if they have to check for a JNU Library stamp or barcode on every book. Or is the library planning to offer the students a PVR-like experience by frisking them for food (read books (pun intended)) every time they enter the building? Well, we're not sure.
Standing tall: The library is a nine-storey building (pic: Facebook/Neeraj Singh)
But that raises a whole other set of curious questions. What about notebooks? Are they banned too? And if a student is 'caught' reading an 'outside' book, will they expel the student or the book? Or will they expel both? Or perhaps the book will be condemned to be recycled to purge it of its sinful ways?
Also, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out why this ban was even created in the first place. Perhaps they were worried that would protest outside the Admin building, create a security threat and convert all the students to anti-nationals? What if the more dangerous anti-nationals were using bombs as books to give JNU a jolt? (The admin also cited safety issues for banning the books, by the way. No kidding here). Or perhaps, were they worried that personal books would also join the students in their pursuit of dissent?
Reading right: The library houses 500k+ books (pic: jnu.ac.in)
When the JNUSU asked the administration for the reason why they decided to ban outside books (much like theatres have asked the SC to stop movie-watchers from bringing their own popcorn), they were told that "the doors of the reading hall are small." Sounds an awful lot like the books are being fat-shamed here. Also, there was an allegation previously about a close-to-80 per cent budget cut for the library. So clearly there's no room to make room for them outsiders.
A not-so-funny issue
Now putting all that aside, there are a few issues about the library that aren't quite as ridiculous. It is no news that the UGC NET is fast approaching and a good number of JNU scholars are preparing for it. But many of them are not permitted to enter the library because they have submitted their thesis and have returned their ID cards. "These students are being continuously harassed by the guards because they don't have their IDs anymore. Their faces are familiar and they are known to the guards," says Aishe Ghosh, a JNU student. But can you blame the guards? What if it is Kanhaiya Kumar or Umar Khalid masquerading as a student? They are committed to the university and cannot put its safety at stake.
A ray of hope
The School of International Studies' student council started renovating two rooms in the campus for students to access and read their books. The rooms will be ready by the weekend.
(The opinions expressed here are the author's own)