JNU has been in the eye of a storm for reasons ranging from political activity to being a hotbed of rebels. What exactly makes it a cut above the rest? Dr. Rakesh Batabyal, Associate Professor, Centre for Media Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University gives his take on one of the oldest universities of India.
With nine schools and four independent centres, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) houses the country’s finest centres of history, political science, economics, regional development and sociology. Notwithstanding its inability to fetch a high global ranking, it has emerged as the only truly national university in a country where institutions have been reduced to caste and community congregations.
Developing critical faculties
The crux of JNU is not what it teaches merely as part of the syllabi and also not what it instructs in the classrooms but in the critical faculties it develops among its students which extends beyond the classroom into the hostels, libraries and canteens. This critical faculty, almost unique to JNU students and teachers, make them rich in intellectual capital. This is why the jholawallah may be hapless in wealth but veritable plutocracy intellectually. In the increasingly closing minds of the Indians, it is this unique capital what is being envied and attacked and more so in the name of equalizing drives either of the communal variety or in the shape of caste-based liberation theories.
Withstanding severe onslaughts
For the JNU baiters, it had been an aberration as its historians, social scientists and its students have not been reduced to zombies of the narrow and sectarian brigades. Since 2016, this has been attempted with intimidation, disruptions and dividing the community of scholars and students. Since the fateful evening of February 9, one saw the entry of police, charges of sedition on students, defaming and deligtimisation of JNU in public eye which itself is a part of delegitimisation of the knowledge produced by JNU and continued disruptions created by filing charges, suspension of teachers and students, and malicious media profiling.
The students, and to an extent teachers, have been weathering the attack with their internal strength of both academic excellence and conviction that they were right. Notwithstanding all these, the academic life of the students and teachers here in the university, compared to most other universities in the country, is still freer and universalistic and done in an awareness of some universal and global standards. In history or in political science or in physics or economics, there are conscious attempts to attain the highest station in the field. This is done despite the fact that the teachers are familiar with the fact that most students who come here may not have the requisite linguistic or mathematical wherewithal to suddenly approach very high standard discourse of the global academia. Thus, there is also an inbuilt attempt through close interaction and regular dialogue to instil in the students a sense of higher station in academic life than merely getting a lectureship or a PhD, which for many has become the byword for the university life.
Blending scientific and social thoughts
The science schools here are closely located with the social science ones and the students have common hostel life which means that unlike the compartmental science institutions which have blocked all kinds of social thoughts to disturb the young minds, JNU provides an atmosphere where the scientific minds are given a rich social context to think of their scientific endeavour. Thus, though not very successfully, but to a great extent the science education in different science schools in JNU has a rather liberal approach to science as it exists in the most advanced centres of science education in the world.
The political life of the campus helps students and also the teachers get their own ideas clearer and crystallized as the debates are so sharp and political that merely wishi-washy answers or efforts to be apolitical are easily caught. Thus the political life of the campus helps making people inside the campus clearer about their life goals and directions of their own thought. There is no other campus or institutional life in the country which provides for such an opportunity.
Research and beyond
The proximity to a large number of good biological and medical science institutions has helped JNU to emerge as a front ranking place in the hub of new research. This also is true to those who wish to do International Studies as many embassies too are located nearby and so do the think tanks where international studies are of utmost importance. Thus, the applied domain in these studies gets embedded and that is why many JNU students can discuss many of these issues better than other university students in the country.
Since 2005 onwards, the university imported very advanced scientific equipment for advanced research and, hence, those who wish to undertake advanced research in the field of molecular and genetic biology, material science and genetic sequencing have more opportunities than most other university students. In the field of acquisition of foreign languages too, the language laboratory is the most advanced in the country where simultaneous interpretation, design of pronunciation etc. are being made part of the teaching itself and therefore since the last four decades and more, JNU students have been at the forefront of the foreign language teaching and helping the Indian state, its diplomats and other dignitaries to get equipped in foreign languages. Thus such a degree from JNU is a prize winning degree and quite a valuable one too.
India’s intellectual face
A university is after all the reflection of a nation and also its intellectual face to the world. While the state of JNU today should be of concern to all those who think for the nation, they must step forward to stop the march of mediocrity in the name of communalism or casteism.
Unlike the compartmental science institutions, JNU provides an atmosphere where scientific minds are given a rich social context to think of their scientific endeavour
JNU has emerged as the only truly national university in a country where institutions have been reduced to caste and community congregations
Dr. Rakesh Batabyal,
Associate Professor, Centre for Media Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University
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