A dalit student, who shares his story of how he tilled the fields of upper caste landlords, dug roads under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and now aspires to lead the students’ union at the country’s premier educational institute. Jitendra Suna, is the Presidential Candidate from Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA) for the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) elections 2019.
Surrounded with other supporters of his organisation, Suna argues that he intends to compel the administration to introduce policies that will result in increasing the number of students from marginalised communities in the campus. When asked about the organisation's agenda, Praveen, another member of BAPSA, said, “There are several issues which affect dalit bahujan students but we seek an immediate reduction in Viva Voce (Interview) marks as we find it has been used to exclude students. Similarly, we want re-introduction of written examinations instead of computer based online exams. Most of the students who apply at the university hail from rural areas and they do not have access to the computers. How do you expect that they can pass the exam with this hurdle?"
However, there are disagreements in the air. United Left, an electoral alliance between Students’ Federation of India, All India Students’ Association, Democratic Students’ Federation and All India Students’ Federation, has pitched the debate on the larger threat to the very existence of the university this time.
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N Sai Balaji, president of the outgoing students’ union and an office bearer of AISA suggests that consistent attacks are aimed at the destruction of the university. Talking to NewsClick, he said, "JNU has taken a loan of Rs 515 crore from the Higher Education Finance Agency. Under the new regime, this mammoth amount has been taken as a loan, not a grant. So, the onus of paying the loan is on the university. How will it recover? Obviously, a major portion will come from students. Even after taking the loan, what are its commitments? It's not infrastructure expansion or better facilities. Indeed, it has awarded a contract worth Rs 24 crore to a security firm. The money could have been used for accommodating the students to other places.”
He added, “Following the cut in library funds, we saw students queuing up for books for days. A similar state of affairs is also there in all science schools where researchers were deprived from basic equipments. So, we are demanding new libraries at each centre and more funds for science schools."
But to Deepali, a Ph. D scholar at the Centre for Study of Social Systems and General Secretary, SFI the elections are about gender justice. JNU was in news last year after many girl students alleged sexual misconduct by Professor Atul Johri. The students had alleged that the internal complaints committee did not investigate the matter with due diligence. "Bringing gender justice to the campus is our utmost priority and we will make sure it is there," she added.
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When asked about national issues? She said,"Can you imagine JNU without a national debate. Obviously, Abrogation of Article 370 and threats to constitutional democracy will dominate the debate.”