Sanghis, Securitisation and Surveillance: Women Lead Student Protests in JNU, Force Admin to Back Down


  • September 26, 2018
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Following the disruption of the electoral process by ABVP vandalism, the JNU administration is using the attack as a ruse for further securitisation and surveillance on campus, while the known perpetrators of the violence roam around free and entitled. Women have particularly been the target of these new policies and have been fighting back through various creative means. Their organising forced the administration to roll-back some of the measures initially announced, but the fight continues. A GroundXero report. All photos and videos courtesy various activist groups and friends in JNU.

 

The attacks by the Hindu right on campuses across India have been taking various forms – from policy measures such as abolishing UGC, making political appointments, the militarisation of campuses, to violence targeting students, and many other things in-between. Nor is it always possible to disentangle these fights – several fronts keep opening up in places. To complicate matters further, there are also various hierarchies of causes – you are more likely to have read about the ABVP attacks on JNU students and the union election ballot counting process this past week, than the ongoing military siege of Manipur University. While obviously hurting more sharply with one edge, this problem cuts both ways – as the new JNU Student Union President N Sai Balaji said to GX, even in these few days since his election, he is getting constant calls from the media asking for his opinions on a wide variety of things. It is as if he has become a minister, rather than simply the President of a student union, he said! In the process particular narratives and voices get emphasised – indexed by one’s institutional affiliations, caste, gender, class, geopolitical location, sexual orientation and various factors. One such story that has not been reported much on, even within JNU focussed writing (despite the high social media presence of this narrative), is the way in which the attack on students by ABVP has been used as a cover for increased surveillance of campus, targeting particularly women.

 

Laying out the argument powerfully with a timeline of developments over the first couple of days, Pinjra Tod wrote in a Facebook post:

Acting almost immediately [after the attacks] and perhaps out of ‘concern,’ the hostel wardens of Kaveri hostel and Shipra Hostel have issued notices saying that they will restrict the entry of ‘outsiders’ into the hostel spaces and would not permit guests from other hostels to also enter hostels of which they aren’t residents of. Conveniently spinning the ‘insider-outside’ binary without paying any heed to the fact that the perpetrators of such violence are also ‘insiders’ to this University. What this notice effectively does is that it adds to the already existing fear by further securitising the campus, pushing it towards greater surveillance and militarisation.

 

It is no surprise that the RAF and CRPF forces are surrounding this campus, making it a highly tense zone. The administration along with hostel committees instead of encouraging the student body to unite and collectivise in the face of these assaults, is rather hell bent on restricting their access to spaces and pushing them into greater isolation. While the perpetrators continue to enjoy complete impunity, the rest of the campus is being monitored in order to perform a hollow act towards ensuring ‘safety.’

 

We must be attentive to the fact that most of the abuses that were hurled during the violence unleashed by ABVP was constantly invoking the imagery of the body of women, and therefore it is no surprise that even when the administration responds, it first securitises the womens’ hostels even though the violence took place outside Jhelum, Sutlej, Mahi Mandvi and Sabarmati.

 

The several very articulate pamphlets written by different organisations in JNU provide the best available overview of the developments there, we include here a selection of them.

Members of NESF wrote a statement condemning ABVP’s racially motivated targeting of students, and the administration’s culpability in the process

An organisation called “Collective” issued a statement looking back at the attacks on Najeeb, and laid out the pattern of using attacks being used as excuses by the administration for increased securitisation, while doing nothing to nab the perpetrators of the violence

 

The JNU students union sent out a call for a further protest on the 25th:

Defeat VC’s ‘Curfew Raj’!
Join JNUSU’S protest at Dean of Students, Tuesday, 25th September, 2:30pm for Fighting Back against JNU admin imposed
* Curfew timings
* Harassment of Students in name of ID card checks
* Imposition of section 144 in campus
* Limiting the timings of dhabas
* Non-issuance of mess coupons for guests and non hostel residents
* For not allowing guests of Students stay in hostels which they are allowed legally to do.
* Non disbursal of salaries to mess workers from 20 days.
* Illegal deduction of 4000-5000rs from salaries of security guards.
ABVP ‘s Terror Raj followed by Admin’ s Curfew Raj- Let’s assert against Both in one voice!
We are JNU! We will not allow our spaces and rights to be clamped down!
Let’s fight back and let’s assert We Are JNU!
JNUSU

 

Different organisations came together for this protest called by JNUSU.

The Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association published a note protesting this surveillance regime

 

Students sing Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s “Hum Dekhenge” at the first night vigil in JNU

JNU: NEITHER MASCULINIST AGGRESSION, NOR PROTECTIONISM, SURVEILLANCE OR SECURITISATION! On the early hours of the morning of 17th September 2018, we witnessed unprecedented violence being unleashed by an organisation called ABVP, which is less of a students’ organisation and more a mouthpiece for the RSS. After obstructing the electoral counting and stalling the process for hours to its eventual loss, the dejected ABVP went on a rampage last night around 3 am. ABVP members went after students and activists, chasing them from their hostels, verbally and physically abusing them, calling them ‘Naxali’ and a series of other misogynistic abuses. The student community responded immediately to come to the aid of those being attacked, even as the G4S security (which itself was under attack by ABVP on the day of counting of votes), police and administrative body looked on. Immediately after the outbreak of violence, which was initiated by ABVP, they went into damage control mode by constructing a false narrative around their own victimisation by the left activists.After three days of incessant violence, discord and threat being manufactured by this party and its members, they have created hostile conditions for the whole of JNU community, not just the students. While it is true that the threat is real, it is equally important to remember that this threat is engineered in order to instil fear in the larger student body and curtail their mobility, political expression and access to spaces.True to its commitment towards ‘Shutting Down JNU’ (Since February 9th 2015), this party has gone ahead and spread hate towards JNU, branding it a hub of ‘anti-nationals.’ This incident too lies on a continuum of the series of violence that this party has been propounding. Acting almost immediately and perhaps out of ‘concern,’ the hostel wardens of Kaveri hostel and Shipra Hostel have issued notices saying that they will restrict the entry of ‘outsiders’ into the hostel spaces and would not permit guests from other hostels to also enter hostels of which they aren’t residents of. Conveniently spinning the ‘insider-outside’ binary without paying any heed to the fact that the perpetrators of such violence are also ‘insiders’ to this University. What this notice effectively does is that it adds to the already existing fear by further securitising the campus, pushing it towards greater surveillance and militarisation. It is no surprise that the RAF and CRPF forces are surrounding this campus, making it a highly tense zone. The administration along with hostel committees instead of encouraging the student body to unite and collectivise in the face of these assaults, is rather hell bent on restricting their access to spaces and pushing them into greater isolation. While the perpetrators continue to enjoy complete impunity, the rest of the campus is being monitored in order to perform a hollow act towards ensuring ‘safety.’We must be attentive to the fact that most of the abuses that were hurled during the violence unbleached by ABVP was constantly invoking the imagery of the body of women, and therefore it is no surprise that even when the administration responds, it first securitises the womens’ hostels even though the violence took place outside, Jhelum, Sutlej, Mahi Mandvi and Sabarmati. While tapping into the 'commonsensical' understanding of existence of 'rules and restrictions' as a 'necessary discipline.' This is actually, an attempt to infantalise students' in the name of 'playing by the book,' because it isn't unknown to people who indeed will be bound by these rules and who would remain above it. This is a step towards turning the campus outside-in: shutting down dhabas, not allowing visitors, surveilling the streets, imposing compulsory attendance, biometric systems, increase police patrolling. The streets will be abandoned and the public spaces would be made available for private companies to securitise and make gains from through their 'security services.' The 'public' character of this University – through seat cut, removal of deprivation points, autonomy – has been under attack for a very long time and now it has metamorphosed into changing the very structure of space of this campus – through politics of segregation, restriction, prohibition. TIMELINE OF EVENTS AFTER THE NIGHT OF ABVP ATTACK: 10 p.m 17/9/18: Night Vigil called by women students against the system of Surveillance within JNU campus and in light of the violence breaking out on campus begins. Hundreds of students gather for the same at Sabarmati T-point. Guriella Dhaba is set up. 11:30 p.m 17/9/18: Reports of women students not being allowed to leave from Koyna hostels come up and students from the vigil and from Koyna Hostel together get together and make sure that such a curfew is not imposed. 10 p.m 18/9/18: Guriella Dhaba is set up and Night Vigil called by women students of JNU campus begins between Koyna and Shipra Hostel. 10:35 pm 18/9/18: BPH opened Dahiya ji's dhaba right now. After prolonged and proactive protests by Brahmaputra students, we managed to force the administration to allow Dahiyaji's dhaba to open. The admin had forcibly shut it at 8 PM.3:11 am 19/9/18: Raid happening in Tapti Hostel, people at the vigil got to know about it and went to Tapti Hostel. Students within Tapti also mobilised, locked their rooms called out to people and came out. And together everyone came out and demanded answers from the warden. The entire hotel mobilised for this. And demanded the Warden who was hiding in the office to come out and talk to them. After pressure the wardens had to come and talk to the students. Students submit a letter to the the warden demanding an end to such raids and intimidation. 3:56 am 19/9/18: Gathering at Sabarmati hostel against the raids. They hd locked people inside to conduct raids. Students came together and did not allow raids to take place. 9.45 pm 19/9/18: Raid in Shipra Hostel. Women assembled in the mess, locked their rooms and decided not cooperate.9.58 pm 19/9/18: GBMs in Koyna and Godavari hostel. 10:56 pm 19/9/18: Shipra hostel women have gone to the wardens house and are demanding her to come out and talk to them and answer them that why were raids conducted and students intimidated. All women taking control!11:32 pm 19/9/18: Women students assemble at Godavri Bus stop. Guerilla dhaba up and running. Night Vigil begins. 12:54 am 20/9/18: The gaurds are blocking the entry of a woman and when she entered they tried to pull her out at Sabarmati Hostel.1:15 am 20/9/18: Under control in Shipra. The residents are drafting a letter to provost who will come tomorrow at 10.Women Hostellers have given a call for a Night March against the heightened atmosphere of surveillance and restrictions on movement within campus. The March is tonight at 10 pm from Ganga Dhaba through all hostels. Join in love, rage and solidarity! STUDENT UNITY LONG LIVE!#pinjratod

Posted by Pinjra Tod: Break the Hostel Locks on Thursday, 20 September 2018

 

Calling for an earlier protest, the organisation of Women Hostel Boarders wrote very powerfully:

JNU’S WOMEN MARCH FOR FREEDOM, 22nd September 2018

 

It is no secret that what scares the Administration more than anything else is that the students of JNU will come together to resist its authoritarian measures. This ‘coming together’ has been curtailed in many symbolic and material ways. Older JNU students will recount times when dhabas stayed open late into the night and a sense of community and an attachment could be forged. This was possible because there existed the physical space and the social climate to, at the very least, not worry about one’s bodily autonomy. The absence of safe public spaces is a threat that has long existed for women and other marginalised communities. The experience of this brimmed over on Friday when hundreds of students of the campus came out in a Women-led March that swept across the campus breaking all the rules issued in the last three circulars.

 

The march aimed to walk through all hostels after 10 PM effectively undermining the rule that demands that we furnish our ID cards to enter hostels and that we don’t enter any hostels other than our own. Before the march had even started, the G4S guards came up and on the basis of the registrar’s notice that no marches or campaigns are allowed on campus, ‘recommended’ that we don’t go forward with the march. We categorically refused and reiterated that this was the whole purpose of the march. Amidst a fervent mood, the march began and faced its first hurdle at Ganga hostel where the guards latched the hostel gate and physically attempted to resist all attempts to open the gate. At this point, even Ganga residents came out of their rooms to demand that the guards let the march walk in. Finally, intimidated by the sheer resilience and the numbers, the guards had to relent. The women walked in, sloganeered and appealed that all residents join them. As we continued to march through other hostels, it became clear that the march was resolute and uncompromising in its demands. So much so that when the guards attempted to lock the doors of Sabarmati, they were forced to unlock the doors within a matter of seconds. At Periyar, the guards were told by some students to not allow the march to enter, but any such ‘orders’ paled in comparison to the  unwavering spirit of the march. The march culminated at Chandrabhaga where women addressed the crowds that had hundreds of students, emphatically asserting their rights and their firmness in refusing to comply with these arbitrary measures.

 

We must remember that these measures will only continue to escalate. It is also true that they are being implemented much more vigourously in girls’ hostels as opposed to boys’ hostels. Our biggest fight right now is to resist the normalisation of these rules which have been implemented under the pretext of ‘securing’ the campus. Once they manage to instill the fear in us that we are ‘illegal’ in our own campus and the anxiety that the only marker of our importance in this campus is a piece of paper, they will have won. To this effect we want to congratulate the hostels that have taken up the mantle to resist this, held GBMs and rejected the farmaans in toto. We want to congratulate the women of Shipra who protested at their warden’s house against extremely intrusive raids. They sat there for hours singing songs of resistance and demanding that the warden address her own impunity. We want to congratulate the residents of Sabarmati and Tapti, for coming out late at night and stopping the warden from conducting raids. The residents of Brahamaputra for swiftly and effectively getting their dhaba re-opened when the warden attempted to shut it arbitrarily and successfully stopped raids from happening. It is clear, that the students of JNU are actively resisting the arbitrary diktats of this administration.

 

The markers of marginalisation are magnified within a surveillance structure. This is not for our security, despite how many times we are given this rhetoric. It is to silence us, and aggravate the already precarious situations from which we emerge, especially as Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi and Muslim women and queer folks.

 

We must continue to hold vigils every night, not just to reclaim the space but also to resist the implementation of these rules in various hostels. This is the moment we make the hostels the site of resistance and build solidarity to resist the ‘outsider-insider’ logic. A university space must never exist within such binaries, for by definition it must be universal and where the ‘whole’ comes together. With the implementation of seat cuts, flouting of reservations and deprivation points, and latest decision to conduct online entrances for JNU admission, vast sections of society are already being kept ‘outside’ this promise of the university and its universality. Now with the surveillance measures, the administration is extending this exclusionary logic of privilege to our residential spaces by actively manufacturing the ‘outsider’. Hostel GBMs, night-time vigils and marches are our clarion call against a systematic dismantling of our universal rights to equal access and liberty.

 

The spirit of resistance must continue. We appeal to the JNUSU to politicise the process of hostel elections. They must also demand accountability from the administration for choosing to curb our freedom under a patriarchal logic of protectionism.

 

Sd/- Women Hostel Boarders

 

Women prepare posters for the women-led march in JNU

Short clip from the women’s march

Posted by Apeksha Priyadarshini on Friday, 21 September 2018

 

As can be seen, the protests included a wide variety of creative steps aside from various marches. There were calls for civil disobedience – for instance, the newly elected officers of JNUSU (N Sai Balaji of AISA, Sarika Choudhary of DSF, Aejaz Ahmad Rather of SFI, Amutha Jayadeep of AISF) issued a call stating: “From the JNUSU we appeal to all students to not comply with the recent surveillance and restrictions imposed by the administration across hostels. We demand that the administration take action against the perpetrators of violence post elections on campus and not put restrictions on students of this campus through circulars and notices. We appeal to everyone to uphold the peaceful and democratic ethos of this campus.”

 

At the women-led march on 20th; Photo courtesy Apeksha Priyadarshini

 

That aside, there were “guerilla dhabas” – with students gathering outside the hostels in defiance of the curfew, and serving tea. There were also a number of protests when guards tried to shut down dhabas early, and in some cases students managed to prevent their closure. Students would also mobilise quickly via whatssap groups if flashpoints emerged in particular places. Here is a short extract from a note written by some students regarding the night vigils, which offers a glimpse of how students have been successfully mobilizing:

In light of the over enthusiasm being displayed by Koyna and Shipra wardens and guards to “protect” us women, the vigil was moved to venue between Koyna and Shipra. Earlier in the night, residents of Brahmaputra hostel protested and got the warden to reopen the dhaba at Brahmaputra, which was being made to close down early. While the night vigil was on between Koyna and Shipra and women residents tried to reclaim the night and their mobility, a raid was started in Tapti. Students from the vigil went to protest this and were joined in large numbers by residents of Tapti who also came out of their hostels to boycott raids and harassment in the name of their protection from violence while known perpetrators of violence roam freely. There was a big show of strength and resistance by Tapti residents against this harassment and the raid had to be stopped soon after it had started. Just as the successful protest at Tapti was subsiding, a raid was started in Sabarmati by over a dozen of those very G4S guards who had just faced protest at Tapti sometime back! Students who had gathered at Tapti then moved to Sabarmati to protest and joined the residents of Sabarmati in stopping and protesting the raid.

 

The long night has finally ended and dawn has broken. The anger in students is palpable and we are ready to protest at any hour, any place. We shall meet again at vigil tonight and assert our mobilitea and solidaritea against a regime of fear and isolation. Zindabad!

Guerilla dhaba just getting set up at North Gate on the night of 26th, these have been going up in different specific locations every night. Photo courtesy Apeksha Priyadarshini

 

Apeksha Priyadarshini from the Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Student Organisation and GSCASH told GX that while regular students were being harassed with ID requirements for entering their own hostels, ABVP students were going in and out through various hostels with impunity. There were even incidents of ABVP students going to the rooms of others, and forcing them to delete videos of ABVP violence from their phones, she said. On behalf of her organization, she said that BASO is calling for the complete roll-back of the circulars issued in the wake of the attacks, which mandate a new regime of securitization, and disallow any protests on campus.

Sumeet Samos, anti-caste rapper and member of BAPSA, performs at a night vigil

Rajib Prasad, a PhD student in the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, spoke of the absurdity of not allowing any non-students in the hostels. Sometimes people have their family visiting, and this sudden rule created a problem for any relatives staying over. Sumitran Basu, PhD student in Science Policy, who was also attacked by ABVP on the 17th and was still limping and visibly in pain when we met in JNU on the 20th, added that one can usually issue food coupons for visitors to eat in the mess – but this provision was also suddenly done away with! He laid out how some archaic hostel rules, which were never implemented, were also being brought back to life at this point, and stressed that these were particularly targeted towards women.

 

Preeti Gulati, a PhD student in History, elaborated on how these rules affected even day-scholars like herself. As a resident of Delhi she is not allowed hostel space, so she often stays over in a friend’s room to cut down on the commute, but these rules suddenly a present a problem for people in her position. Even visiting scholars are facing trouble, she said, narrating the story of a foreign visiting student whose flight landed late at night and they found themselves stranded at the gate.

 

Moreover, Preeti added, there is the constant fear of raids, which take place more often in women’s hostels. Suddenly in the middle of the night wardens will come through the hostel blocks, and search through every room for guests or forbidden appliances. Students’, and particular women students’ rights to privacy are regularly violated in the process. It is important to remember, she asserted, that the guards are not our enemy, as they too are simply doing their jobs. However, even in negotiating the (almost all-male) guards, women cannot strike the kind of camaraderie with them that male students may be able to. She spoke of the huge deployment of about 20 security-men at the campus gate, and the intimidation of having to pass through their inquisitorial questions every time while entering campus. She narrated an incident from the day before, when she was stopped and asked for her ID, she refused, saying that the union had given a call for no student to comply with ID checks. Even as the guard appeared sympathetic, he made a sarcastic comment about her having “itna tewar” while he quizzed her about JNU to determine if she was indeed a student.

Women of Ganga hostel organizing against Warden raids at 4.20 a.m. on 26th September; Photo courtesy “Women of JNU” FB page

Reflecting on these circumstances, Diya Davis of Pinjra Tod said that with women’s hostels being the first target of circulars and their zealous implementation, combined with this harassment around campus and the need for constant confrontation to get around, campus becomes a very unwelcome space for women. It is these moves to make campus life an isolating experience that the fight is also against. Within these difficult contexts, Swati Simha of GSCASH and the Democratic Students Federation spoke of the longer history of women leading protests in JNU, and how the administration was afraid of women organizing. Usually, she found, they weren’t able to directly take repressive steps in response, but would use the ruse of “protection” to curtail freedoms – and these circulars were part of precisely that process. Yet once again, women organizing through a variety of fora were successful in forcing the administration to roll-back their circulars.

The JNU admin takes two steps back in the face of protests

Sharing the photo of the JNU circular rolling back certain aspects of the earlier circulars on their Facebook page, “Women of JNU” wrote:

Step by step, we will take this Sanghi VC down! The DOS issues a circular and withdraws the restrictions imposed on “unauthorized” guests and guest coupons. Who classifies as “authorized” and “unauthorized” is a different debate altogether. But point remains, that this is definitely a milestone in our struggle! So kudos to the JNU Community for their collective resistance! However, the battle is far from over. The restriction on inter-hostel mobility and id check for surveillance continues to remain. Yet, slowly, but surely, this VC is being forced to come to terms with a simple but powerful slogan of ours – Koshish tumhari jaari hai! Par JNU tum par bhaari hai! Jung jaari hai!     #WomenOfJNUOrganize #FightBackJNU

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