Sunday, February 25, 2024

In JNU, Muslim student attacked by ABVP, labeled ‘security threat’ by professor, faces pressure to drop out

A PhD student at the prestigious JNU, a Muslim, subjected to a brutal assault by ABVP members and labeled a ‘security threat’ by his professor, is now compelled to drop out of the university.

Nazar Mohammad Mohaideen, a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Molecular Medicine (SCMM), claims that he has endured continuous harassment from his supervisor for the past eight months, leading him to feel compelled to drop out of the university.

Nazar was one of the students who suffered severe injuries during the attack by members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) at Teflas (Union office) on 19 February this year, which occurred during a movie screening.

After the assault and threats from ABVP members, he encountered continuous harassment at SCMM from his supervisor, Prof. Shailja Singh. She refused to guide him, labeling him a “significant security threat” to the centre and fellow students.

On 4 October, Nazar received a letter from the Chairperson of SCMM, declaring that he cannot continue his Ph.D from the University. 

“Despite repeated appeals to Centre, no faculty came forward to ensure that a smooth transition of the supervisor takes place. Both Nazar and representatives from JNUSU tried to reach out for dialogue across the sections of faculty which had not been heard at any point of time. Recently in a letter addressed by the Chairperson, the Centre has now refused to appoint a new supervisor for Nazar which puts his PhD at risk. Such a step is against the very ordinance of the University guidelines thus clearly showing the intent of the JNU Administration. The incident has blatantly exposed the JNU Administration’s apathy towards students especially coming from the minority communities and a systemic attack to curb dissent within University space,” read a statement by JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU).

“This also shows how the various bodies in the university like the Equal Opportunity Office have become completely defunct where these bodies have refused to act even when a student from a marginalized community is being forced to drop out. Such acts should also be seen as part of the Sanghi administration’s attempts to make the university spaces inaccessible for the marginalized sections of the society. We have been witness to how the JNU Administration has been vindictively targeting student activists who have been resisting the ABVP-JNU Admin’s attempts to saffronize and commercialize the campus,” it added.

Nazar hails from Tamil Nadu, and he is the first- generation learner in his entire family to attend a Central University for a PhD. From the last 12 months, his stipend has been suspended without clear reasons, and he has experienced systematic alienation from academic activities at the centre.

Denied access to the lab for several months and unjustly refused his SRF application, he said he faces further obstacles including basic accommodations like a single- seater room, as everything requires the signature of either the supervisor or the chairperson.

Nazar said to Maktoob: “The ABVP goons physically attacked me on just one day. However, for over eight months, both my supervisor and the JNU administration have subjected me to institutional harassment, negatively impacting my mental health. The social exclusion I face within my peer groups is an entirely different story to tell. As a first- generation learner, I cannot afford to share everything with my family,  as they may struggle to comprehend the campus events and could be frightened by what is transpiring. The financial constraints imposed by my centre have also been impacting me on a personal level.”

Institutional harassment faced by Nazar after the violent attack by ABVP on 19 February

On February 27, a week after the attack, Nazar’s supervisor, Prof. Shailja Singh sent an  email to the then Chairperson of SCMM Prof Gobardhan Das.

In the email, Prof. Singh raised concerns about Nazar, citing issues of insincerity and lack of engagement in lab work. She went on to label him as a “big security threat” to the center and the students working in the lab, urging the Chairperson to address the issue by instructing Nazar to Vacate her lab on these grounds. 

On March 1, Prof. Singh informally suspended Nazar for the next 15 days, when he went back to the lab on March 16, his supervisor did not allow him to work in the lab until further notice. 

A special committee set up by the then Chairperson, Prof Gobardhan Das on the basis of the complaint by Prof. Singh against Nazar, concluded that the complaints raised against him are “basic in nature, and the supervisor should sit and talk with the student if she has any concerns” but Prof. Singh kept harassing him, saying he should leave the lab.

Nazar said: “She started putting different sets of allegations against me that I have been threatening students from the center, misbehaving with her and instigating ‘non-academic’ activities in the university. She started sending all this to the Chairperson demanding that he should be removed from the lab. She even changed the topic which I had been working on previously. It was like mental harassment.”

On April 19, after one month of continuous harassment by the supervisor the center set up a grievance committee as requested by Nazar to look into the allegations put against him. The grievance committee gave a final report on May 12, approving the change of guide for Nazar but even after that the professors from the center refused to take him citing different reasons like lack of vacancy, funds, etc. 

He requested the center to allot him a supervisor as per the university guidelines but it was delayed and dragged and he was not allotted any supervisor under whom he can continue his PhD. The other professors who were willing to take him were discouraged in many ways and were being told that “accepting Nazar as a student would create problems for the professor”. 

The Chairperson denied responsibility for solving the issue, deflecting it by stating that he could not solve the issue and forwarded the case to the admin while the Vice Chancellor and the administration asserted that it is the autonomy of the school to allot the guide and hence they cannot instruct. Hence, The vicious cycle goes on. 

Nazar says to Maktoob that just a day before registration, SCMM informed him that registration could only be done with a supervisor and it was his responsibility to find one. When he enquired about the scenario where no supervisor accepts, Das, the Chairperson, mentioned he couldn’t intervene.

“Despite sending reminder emails at regular intervals to the VC, Rectors I & II, and the new Chairperson of SCMM, Prof Vibha Tandon, urging a prompt resolution and supervisor allocation, no action was taken. Emails were also dispatched to resume the non-NET fellowship halted for ten months since November 2022 due to the absence of a supervisor to sign the fellowship form. However, the Centre and administration remained unresponsive,” he further added. 

He suggests that his supervisor’s reluctance to guide him may stem from her close association with right- wing groups, potentially influencing her anti-student stance and disregarding the ethical standards expected of a sensible professor.

“Identity plays a significant role, especially in the North Indian socio-political sphere. Typically, students from marginalized sections face discrimination in central university spaces. Additional discrimination arises when individuals from the South engage in progressive political activities challenging the existing system. I Co-founded the Reservation Club at JNU addressing reservation issues on campus. When my supervisor labeled me a security threat to other students and the centre, I perceived it as an attack particularly aimed at my religious identity. Although the committee set up by the centre dismissed these claims, I believe the supervisor should have been held accountable for making such communal remarks. Unfortunately, no action was taken. I feel sensitization is needed at all levels regarding attacks on the identities of the students,” he said.

Nazar Mohammad who is in the second year of his PhD has been denied access to research and academic activities for several months. His application for fellowships, like SRF was denied, citing no supervisor for signing the application. While all of his batchmates have prepared and passed their synopsis work, thereby confirming their Ph.D., he couldn’t even start synopsis work owing to lack of supervisor and topic.

A Muslim student, subjected to a brutal assault by ABVP members, becomes a “security threat” to fellow students, while no action is taken against the perpetrators of violence – the members of the ABVP,  who have a history of violence against minority students on campus. 

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