Historians, Teachers, Students Urge JNU not to Relocate CHS Library
Representational image. | Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Students, historians and teachers have asked the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) administration to abandon the plan to relocate the Centre of Historical Studies Library to save precious historical resources, manuscripts, and private papers of scholars like Satish Chandra, DN Gupta and William Cahn.
In a circular issued on August 4, the university said that the library’s building would be used as a Special Centre for Tamil Studies after it received a special grant of Rs 10 crore from the Tamil Nadu Government.
JNU implements #NEP2020 and the vision and mission of PM Shri Narendra Modi by beginning the Special Centre for Tamil Studies which introduces special courses, translation and learning of the oldest language and its great culture.@rashtrapatibhvn @narendramodi pic.twitter.com/B5VHHSqGdK
— Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) (@JNU_official_50) July 31, 2023
The students maintained that the library is an unparallel depository of documents and resources adding that the new site, Exim Bank Library, lacks space to accommodate such a vast collection of books.
Saib Bilawal, a PhD student at CHS, told Newsclick that the library is a “reading and research centre that has books out of print in the last 40 years and no archivist could segregate them into small libraries”.
“It’s an excellent centre for studying Indian history. If JNU received funds to create a Tamil Centre, it should construct a new building instead of replacing an old and precious public asset. Why not multiply the public asset?” he asked.
Here's why I'm protesting to save our CHS department library & why "relocation"/dispersion of the book & document collections is the worst thing any decent librarian/archivist could possibly do. #SaveCHSLibrary #JNU
— Saib Bilaval (@SaibBilaval) August 5, 2023
Asked why the university is willing to lose such a precious library, he said, “It’s a trend emanating from the Mamidala administration [UGC chairman MJ Kumar] where they received funds for infrastructure expansion and had to show it on paper. For example, classes on new courses, including MBA and engineering, are held in old buildings.”
Ashish Kochhar, in M.A. history second year, said that the library houses 1,80,00 books and documents as old as 150 years. “The new site cannot accommodate this huge collection. The current library has a decent space where students can sit and read precious books. The new site can’t accommodate more than 15 students.”
Kochhar added that students are “concerned that books that cannot be accommodated will be sold or discarded”.
JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) president Aishe Ghosh expressed concern about the “erosion of research”. “The Centre was created with special assistance from the UGC. JNU is still considered among the best institutions to pursue research in humanities, social sciences and sciences,” she told Newsclick.
“The decision was taken without deliberating or communicating with students, the most important stakeholders of the university. There was zero transparency regarding what the V-C and the JNU administration did with the funds allotted by the Tamil Nadu government,” she alleged.
After Kumar was appointed V-C, “the library budget was significantly reduced, access to many journals and the subscription to various periodicals stopped and the Helen Keller unit wasn’t maintained”, she further alleged.
“The current V-C Shantishree Dhulipudi Pandit has been following her predecessor’s path and trying to implement anti-student policies one after the other,” Ghosh alleged.
Ghosh added that the “reduction in funding of universities like JNU is part of the government’s Higher Education Financing Agency model and the National Education Policy 2020, which outrightly promotes privatisation and commercialisation of the education system”.
Sixteen former faculty of CHS, including Romila Thapar, Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee and Sucheta Mahajan, wrote a letter to Pandit urging her to abandon the library’s relocation.
“We … are shocked to hear that the CHS library building is being taken over by the administration on the grounds of the need for space for new centres that are being established within the university. Since the grant for the building of the CHS library was received expressly for this purpose from the UGC, it is quite disturbing to hear that the building has been sought to be put to alternate use after several decades of its existence,” the letter read.
The former faculty members said that the library’s relocation and dispersal “would essentially destroy this fine institution which was funded specifically for the purpose” and urged
the university “to reverse this hasty decision, which appears to have been taken without even consulting the CHS faculty”.
The JNU Teachers Association (JNUTA) too issued a statement to save the library. “Both the CHS as well as Exim Bank libraries came into existence as a result of special financial assistance being received by the university for the same,” JNUTA president DK Lobiyal said.
“They house important resources that faculty, students and researchers can access and there is no question that cramming both of them into the same premises will have adverse consequences for access to them and lead to loss of some of these resources. In the case of the CHS library, these resources include precious collections and rare documents.”
“The Exim Bank library, on the other hand, was a recipient of regular flow of financial assistance from an external body to expand its collection of books—this was disrupted a few years ago only because of the arbitrary actions and ineptitude of the JNU administration, led by the previous vice-chancellor, and needs to be revived,” he added.
Since the university has also received special funds from the Tamil Nadu government to set up the Special Centre for Tamil Studies, he said, “there is no reason for this centre to be sanctioned the space and infrastructure created and still in use for other purposes. Indeed, such a change in their use would also be in violation of the terms of the financial sanctions through which the two libraries were created”.
In a statement issued on August 4, Indian History Congress secretary professor SAN Rezavi said, “The Indian History Congress takes it as another attempt to harm a study of our past, which has been happening since the last few years. Any attempt to restrict the accessibility or the availability of books, including sources, for the study of the past, is nothing but another step towards furthering myths in place of history.”
Meanwhile, the university administration has said that “misinformation is being spread in the university that CHS Library is being closed”.
In a statement issued on Friday evening, the administration said that as “part of an internal arrangement, the university has planned to relocate the CHS Library to the adjoining building”.
Pandit was unavailable for comment.
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