As we are all aware, on the occasion of 125th Birth Anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar, the JNU administration has decided to rename the JNU Central Library after him. Even as there can be a no more appropriate name than that of Dr. Ambedkar to name the JNU, indeed any, library after, the intent behind the renaming is more in the nature of a brazen act of appropriation. In addition to all the great achievements in his personal and political life, which he achieved in the face of greatest obstacles, pressures, blackmail, and hostility, together with his being a source of revolutionary hope and enlightenment among the millions of downtrodden of this country, Ambedkar also had a special relation with the institution of the university. As is well known, struggling against the heaviest odds in his early life, Ambedkar went on to earn his doctorate from one of the best universities of the time, becoming the first person from a dalit community to do so. Ambedkar’s academic and political work adhered to the highest standards of scholarship, and lays bare for all to see the transitivity of the relation between social privilege and knowledge, knowledge and power, and the necessity of a reconfiguration of this relationship both in the struggle against Brahmanical oppression as well as the achievement of true knowledge itself. Ambedkar’s political programme emphasised the importance of education and knowledge for dalit-bahujan communities and other oppressed and excluded groups if persistent historical injustice was to be reversed and democratic ideals of universal equality, true freedom, human dignity and fraternity were to take root.
Yet, because of the grim scenario that JNU finds itself today vis-a-vis the seat cull for research programme admissions, the JNUTA can only see the decision to rename the JNU library as showing only rank hypocrisy. At a time when JNU has, with the blessings of the HRD Ministry, slammed the doors of higher education in the same university shut on the faces for hundreds of dalit-bahujan and other socially disadvantaged students, when students’ fellowships are withheld and they are denied food in the messes, when their demands for substantive social justice is met with either proctorial enquiry or FIR, renaming a library is an exercise in cynical ‘politics’ and nothing more. This is made even more a reality by the way the University has, as an institution, failed to fill up SC/ST/OBC posts, despite timely shortlisting by the Schools and Centres on several occasions for the same posts, and systematically ignored the concerns expressed by SC/ST faculty at instances of discriminatory comments and conduct by persons invested with administrative authority.
At this present moment, and in the coming period, perhaps the most important issue before the Indian university is how it can come to be substantively reconfigured as an inclusive, sensitive space of equality, freedom, and knowledge. For the university and the knowledge it produces to be effectively freed from the perpetuation of historical injustice, not only does the promise of reservation need to be kept alive both in admission, recruitment and promotion, specific commitments to institutionally address caste discrimination and feelings of alienation and exclusion (which can become the basis for students dropping out altogether). It is the responsibility of those who are already in the university system, particularly teachers, to ensure that such a transformation takes place. The JNUTA, with humility and sincerity, pledges to ceaselessly strive to make JNU the university of Babasaheb’s dreams, as an institution that seeks the annihilation of caste as its foremost objective in pedagogy, research, and campus life.
Ayesha Kidwai Pradeep Shinde
President, JNUTA Secretary, JNUTA