Sunday, December 3, 2023

O.P. Jindal University suspends 3 students for ‘politically sensitive’ magazine; Protests, hunger strike ensue

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O. P. Jindal Global University’s administration has suspended three law students for distributing a magazine carrying ‘politically sensitive’ materials and engaging in what the administration deems as ‘unruly’ conduct.

The English language magazine, named ‘Nazariya,’ was released by the students of the varsity and focused on the issues of the working class, farmers, students, intellectuals, and the marginalized.

In response to the suspension, students immediately declared a hunger strike and sit-in protest.

Mukundan, a second-year BA. LLB (Hons) student, began the hunger strike, while Ramnit Kaur, a third-year BA. LLB (Hons) student, and Val Varshri, a fifth-year BA. LLB (Hons) student, joined the sit-in protest in solidarity.

The students’ demands center on the restoration of their freedom of thought and expression, seeking a formal revocation of their suspension and the return of confiscated materials.

The tussle between the administration and students began on July 28 when the students’ magazine stall was forcibly removed by campus security, citing that it coincided with another event and created confusion among students as the induction session was scheduled for the newly admitted students.

Mukundan, who is on a hunger strike, said to Maktoob: “We were democratically distributing and displaying the magazines to the students when the university’s security forces asked us to remove the stall, claiming it would confuse incoming students about the induction event. The induction event was being held at a different place within the campus, not in the vicinity of the magazine stall.”

He further added, “On July 29, campus security, accompanied by a large cohort, forcefully confiscated all magazines, posters, and the stall set-up, and took three copies for ‘inspecting the content’.”

On the same day, the students received suspension orders from the Chief Proctor’s office via email, which accused them of disrupting the integrity of the university campus.

The email stated, “The Chief Proctor’s office has taken suo-moto cognizance of the unruly/disorderly conduct to disrupt the integrity of the university campus.”

The email accused students of disrupting the day-to-day functioning of the educational institution, stating that they had set up a stall within the University premises (Adda) without obtaining permission from any authority. Additionally, it mentioned that they had been distributing “materials with political sensitivity“ and “making calls to the broader student community even after being instructed to refrain from continuing these activities.”

The email further added, “The Chief Proctor tried to talk to you, but you misbehaved with the Chief Proctor by raising your voice and cutting the phone in his face.”

In response to the university’s suspension, student Mukundan rebuts: “No communication was initiated by the university before suspending us, this is an attempt to strangulate students’ voices and curtail academic and political freedom on campuses and educational institutions.”

The students assert that their actions fall within their democratic rights and should not face curtailment. They call for a formal negotiation process, involving an alumni representative chosen freely by the students, without influence from the university administration. As the hunger strike and sit-in protest persist, the university is yet to formally respond to these demands.

However, there has been communication from the administration to the protesting students. A meeting with the proctor is scheduled for the evening of July 30, though the students have not received a call as of the time of filing this story.

With widespread support from both inside and outside the university community, the students’ protest has gained momentum. They stress their primary goal is to create an environment that encourages free political discourse among students, without constraints imposed by the administration.

As the hunger strike enters its second day, concerns about Mukundan’s health grow. The university administration has yet to provide basic humanitarian care or send a medical practitioner to check on his well-being. Mukundan pointed out, “Despite informal assurances, the university is yet to publicly accept the students’ demands. A doctor is also seen around the protest site, but no significant measures are taken by the administration so far.”

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