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25 Jun 2007

June 25, 2007

Open Letter to the Vice-Chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University

We, the undersigned, urge the authorities of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to review the recent decision of the Proctorial Board to rusticate seven students. This course of action was deemed fit in view of the gherao of JNU’s Registrar by students on February 19, 2007. However, the gherao by students cannot be viewed in isolation and ought to be viewed in its proper context. The mistreatment and exploitation of contract workers and labourers employed for building construction had stirred the social conscience of many students. The issue had resulted in a three-month long agitation by the students through their union (Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union), demanding the intervention of the university administration as the principal employer. As part of their campaign the students put up posters highlighting the non-payment of statutory minimum wages and non-compliance with provisions of the Contract Labour Act and other laws. However, the response of the administration was hostile: the posters put up by the students were torn down on the ground of being “offensive” (circular dated February 23, 2007), and they were peremptorily told to stop their agitation. Driven to the wall, on February 19, 2007 the students gheraoed the Registrar in protest, an act for which they have apologised.

In our judgement the punishment meted out to the students is unduly harsh because of the circumstances outlined above. The illegal confinement of the Registrar is indeed unfortunate, and we sincerely sympathise with the trauma he must have gone through. Having said this, we cannot also ignore the continuing physical and mental trauma of hundreds of contract labourers and construction workers whose right to a decent livelihood has been violated with impunity. In a society where most students are basically career minded and self-seeking, it is refreshing to find that there are still some who are sensitive to the injustices in their immediate social environment. It is indeed ironical that JNU, which claims to be a university that promotes socially relevant education, is punishing students precisely for living up to their social responsibility. We therefore appeal to the Vice-Chancellor of JNU to withdraw the rustication order, and instead hold an inquiry into the alleged violation by the university of its statutory obligations towards the workers employed by it in its capacity as the principal employer.

Yours faithfully,

1 Anand Chakravarti (Retired Professor of Sociology, Delhi University)

2 Sumit Sarkar (Retired Professor of History, Delhi University)

3 Achin Vanaik (Professor of Political Science, Delhi University)

4 Nivedita Menon (Reader in Political Science, Delhi University)

5 Uma Chakravarti (Retired from Delhi University)

6 Apoorvanand (Reader in Hindi, Delhi University)

7 Ujjwal Kumar Singh (Reader in Political Science, Delhi University)

8 Sadhna Saxena (Reader in Education, Delhi University)

9 Farida Abdulla Khan (Professor of Education, Jamia Millia Islamia)

10 Aditya Nigam (Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies)

11 Javed Malik (Reader in English, Delhi University)

12 Sadhna Arya (Reader in Political Science, Delhi University)

13 Pranay Kumar Srivastava (Lecturer in Hindi, Allahabad University)

14 Neeraj Malik (Reader in English, Delhi University)