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Treated like a Dalit on JNU campus, says ABVP student who complained against Nivedita Menon

Somi Das | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:55 IST

On 13 March, JNUSU Joint Secretary Saurabh Sharma filed a complaint against JNU professor Nivedita Menon for her alleged comments that 'India illegally occupied J&K'. Menon made these statements during the "Lessons in Nationalism" -- a series of lectures on nationalism by professors, initiated after JNU students were arrested on charges of sedition and a majority of them, along with faculty members were tagged "anti-national".

However, from the lecture that lasted for over an hour, clips lasting just a few seconds were aired on some television channels. This led to anger against Menon on social media.

Cases have been lodged against her.

According to a statement released by intellectuals from all walks of life, including Anjali Monteiro, KP Jayasankar, Shilpa Phadke, Shohini Ghosh and others: "Three false cases have been filed against Prof. Menon in this media-created environment of shrill jingoism."

Another statement released by feminist groups said: "We find the attacks being carried out on Nivedita Menon by certain political groups through student bodies like the ABVP, who are filing baseless complaints with the police, and the media like Zee News, who are maligning her with footage shown out of context, as an attack on reasoned debate and informed conversation, both of which are inimical to democracy."

We spoke to Sharma, who made it to the headlines just a few months ago for ushering in a comeback in the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union (JNUSU) panel after 14 years, on why he went filed a case against a teacher of his own university at a time when normalcy was returning to the campus. The 26-year old is pursuing Phd in neuroscience.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

You filed a complaint against Professor Nivedita Menon?

No, I haven't filed any complaint. I have just gone to the Vasant Kunj police and given an application. I didn't go to file an FIR. I just brought it to the notice of the police that such a statement was made. I don't agree with what Nivedita Ma'am was saying. I mean, no Indian will ever agree with her claim that we have forcefully occupied Kashmir. May be a handful of Indians will agree with her but a majority call Kashmir, the heaven of India.

Go back to text books. I have never read in any school book that Kashmir is not an integral part of the country.

But there will be some differences in what you read in text books and what is taught in colleges?

I would have never got full marks if I had written in my exams that Kashmir was not an integral part of India. It was not right on her part to make a provocative statement that most people don't agree with on the campus.

But the students present there, who were listening to her, didn't really raise any objection to her statement? Contrary to some of the complains, her speech didn't incite any violence. Students were listening to her quietly and later asked her questions. There was no angry reaction.

I have nothing to do with the students who were present there and what they were doing. May be some of them didn't say anything. But I think it was my responsibility to bring it to the notice of the Vice Chancellor and the police. Nivedita Menon has said similar things earlier as well.

Did you attend that lecture by her?As far as I know it was an open forum and everyone was invited?

No, I didn't attend it.

Why didn't you attend it?

I had some other work. It's not like we didn't want to but we had other engagements

Did you attend any of these Nationalism lectures?

No. I mean we did attended a couple of sessions, but couldn't stay till the end.

So, without even attending the session, how do you know what she said?

I watched it on Youtube and what she said was wrong.

The only reason I am asking you about this is that had you attended the session, you could have confronted her directly instead of bringing the police into the matter...

That is right. But you see here I am seen as the ABVP joint secretary. Our voice has always been suppressed. We are in a minority on this campus. It has happened several times whenever we wanted to raise our questions, we have been opposed by our friends from the Left. And we had no intention of questioning Nivedita Menon.

But don't you think questioning would have been a better way of going about it than going and filing a complaint against her? Don't you think its against Indian culture, where the teacher is not merely someone who imparts education but is also seen as a guru? Does it look nice if a student drags his teacher to the police, when he could have simply walked up to her and cleared his confusion?

I agree there is a Guru Shishya parampara in this country. I accept that. No doubt she is our teacher also. But we don't get any platform to express dissent, we don't get equal space to voice our concerns. It's not just the 9 February incident.

Every time we go out to protest, our voice is suppressed because we are in a minority here. You won't believe how I am treated here. I am seen as the ABVP joint secretary. Left students don't like to talk to me. I am looked down upon like a criminal, I am treated like a Dalit on the campus by the Left students. We are socially boycotted on this campus, particularly after the 9 February incident.

Would you not like to create that intellectual space and bridge this ideological divide that you feel is stopping you from approaching teachers in JNU?

I want the communication gap that has been created by the teachers to end. It's not about ABVP or students politics. We want to gain knowledge from professors as they have a lot of knowledge.

And there are no two ways about the fact that Nivedita Menon is a renowned personality. But I have a problem with what she said about Kashmir. And may be I will try and bring up these issues with her if I get a chance and present our argument. May be we would arrive at a conclusion where she finds herself to be wrong, or even my perception about this issue could be wrong.

So, you feel it was a wrong move to bring in the police?

I can't say it was wrong. I have not lodged an FIR or any complaint. I just brought it to the notice of the police.

So you don't want any action taken against her?

If the police takes suo moto action, we would have nothing against it. At the same time we wouldn't support it.

--Edited by Abha Srivastava

First published: 15 March 2016, 1:27 IST
Somi Das @Somi_Das

Somi brings with her the diverse experience of working in a hard news environment with ample exposure to long-form journalism to Catch. She has worked with Yahoo! News, India Legal and Newslaundry. As the Assistant Editor of Catch Live, she intends to bring quality, speed and accuracy to the table. She has a PGD in Print and TV journalism from YMCA, New Delhi, and is a lifelong student of Political Science.