Jawaharlal Nehru University: Take a Left

Members of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union or JNUSU have been on a hunger strike to persuade the university administration to make changes on how certain things should be run. The four “major demands” include reduction of viva-voice marks from 30% to 10-15%, increasing the amount of merit-cum-means scholarship meant for students from economically weaker sections, assigning grace marks for minority students and changing the 2011 decision of holding separate entrance exams for integrated courses in the School of Languages.

“There are instances where the student is not good in spoken English, and in viva-voce the student is marked less despite having adequate knowledge about the subject,” says a JNUSU member.

JNUSU is led by the All-India Students' Association or AISA, which won three of four posts in the recently-held campus elections. 

An easily noticeable difference between the student politics of JNU and Delhi University or DU is the polarisation of two types of conduct–ideology in JNU, which has much to do with brains, and brawn in DU, more about muscle flexing and perhaps, money.

The battle in JNU has traditionally been among Left-leaning student parties, while in DU the Congress-backed National Students' Union of India has locked horns with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, or ABVP. Campus politics in DU is a prestige issue for the two parent parties.  

JNU faced an interesting problem recently. A section of students had announced the so-called "beef food festival" on the campus, triggering opposition from the BJP and its student wing ABVP. The university authorities did not allow the festival to be held on the campus. A member of the New Materialists–the group behind the beef festival idea–says the festival was “an assertion to retain food rights in a multicultural country.”

“The right wing forces in the country have always given a vegetarian impression when it comes to the country's food culture. This festival is in a way to challenge the Bramanical idea of what kind of food to be consumed. There is a section of people who are used to eating beef and pork, it is a part of their culture,” Premjish, member of New Materialists, was quoted as saying in Deccan Herald.

While Left-leaning student groups saw the festival as a celebration of the individual’s right to eat "taboo food" without shame or fear, right wing ABVP had warned of repercussions if the festival was allowed. Under the generic, state specific prohibition of cow slaughter laws, there is a provision for five-year imprisonment and Rs10,000 fine for storing or serving beef.

According to New Materialists members, one of the JNU canteens in the 1990s used to serve beef on Saturdays, but it was shut down after BJP came to power.

More from Jawaharlal Nehru University: