UPDATE: A copy of the JNU Committee Report is available here
Even as students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University prepared for their "People's March to Save Democracy" and gathered at the gates to board a bus for Mandi House in Delhi today, there was disquiet by widespread media reports on the reported recommended rustication of eight students.
The march is a protest against the BJP-led government’s attack on universities, from the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) to Allahabad to the FTII to JNU. The demands/slogans include, Stand with Social Justice and Secularism, ensure Justice for Rohith Vemula and Enact the Rohith Act; Release JNU students, Umar and Anirban; Drop all charges against JNU students; and last but not the least, HRD Minister Smriti Irani must resign
All major national newspapers, quoting from a report in the Press Trust of India today (March 15, 2016) had said that the report of the internal JNU Committee appointed to go into allegations of ‘anti-national slogans’ has recommended that Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and three other students should be expelled for their alleged role in a February 9 event to mark the anniversary of the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, where allegedly 'anti-India slogans' were raised.
Interestingly though the conclusions of this internal report have been leaked widely to the media by the vice chancellor Jagadesh Kumar, his claim that the deans of the colleges had been shown the report has been denied. None from the faculty have seen the report. Several students have however received show cause notices to reply to allegations by March 16. The notice however does not anywhere clarify what the alleged offences committed by the students are.
It may be recalled that a Judicial Inquiry into the incident, ordered by the Delhi government had reached significant findings, not the least being that three of the seven videos used to mobilise public opinion through telecast by three television channels had been doctored. SabtangIndia had carried a detailed story on the DM's Report on March 8.
Major Findings of the Report of the District Magistrate (DM):
- Nothing adverse could be found against Kanhaiya Kumar. No witness or video available to me could support allegation against him.
- Umar Khalid was visible in videos. His support for the role of Afzal Guri is known and he was the organizer of the event. His role needs to be further investigated (Page 1 ) The Magistrate further says that after a close watching of the videos, he “did not hear any slogan from the mouth of Umar Khalid” (Page 23)
- Three out of seven videos which were sent for verification were found to be doctored including one news clipping of a News Channel found on You-Tube
The DM's report further states:
- Three of the seven videos examined by the Truth Labs, Hyderabad to ascertain whether they were doctored or not, were found to have been doctored. The television channels that telecast these doctored videos have not been named in the report.
- The reporter and cameraman of Zee News were invited onto the campus at 5.20 p.m. by Saurabh Sharma of the RSS-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) who is general secretary of the JNUSU, on February 9, and it is after the telecast by Zee television of the doctored videos the next day that the local police station lodged the FIR. The FIR, filed under section 124A of the Indian penal Code (IPC) did not name any students as offenders.
- While Zee News/television willingly gave the CD of the video recording of the news telecast that led to the registration of an FIR to the police, the same news channel, despite repeated requests did not make available any recording for the purpose of the magisterial inquiry. This amounts, in law, to suppression of evidence and non-cooperation with a judicial officer.
- Several of the security officers under the administration gave contradictory statements to the district magistrate and the internal inquiry committee.
The JNU controversy in a nutshell
- "The high-level committee that has reportedly recommended rustication of five students after its investigation over a month's time. PTI reports that the final call in this regard will be taken by the Vice Chancellor and Proctor's office," sources told PTI. None of the Teachers Association –JNUTA—nor the Dean have been shown a copy of the report that was shared with the media. SabrangIndia spoke to several persons from the JNU faculty.
- The university also sent a notice to 21 students, including Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid, for "violating the university's rules and norms" and asked them to give their explanation by tomorrow, March 16. "Disclose the evidence based on which action has been recommended," said Ajay Patnaik, the chief of the faculty association at JNU or Jawaharlal Nehru University. Students who have received the university's show cause notice have also asked for the report to be made public to NDTV. "The notice is very vague. It doesn't say what we have done. It asks us to clarify, but what should we clarify?" questioned one of the students, Anand Prakash. Mr Prakash alleged that the inquiry committee formed at the height of the controversy last month had shown bias in the past. "We were suspended 24 hours after the inquiry committee was formed," he said.
- The university's top officers including the vice chancellor reportedly met on Monday, March 14, 2016 and discussed the report for issuing notice to the students.
- Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya were arrested last month on charges of sedition. Mr Kumar was released on bail from Tihar Jail on March 3 while Mr Khalid and Mr Bhattacharya are still in judicial custody.
- The university had, on March 11, revoked the academic suspension of eight students including Kanhaiya Kumar following outrage and said that they would be banned from academic activities until the inquiry was over.
- In Mid-February when the Committee had been constituted the, Jawharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) had questioned the university’s decision to suspend eight students from academic activities, as recommended by a “high-level” enquiry committee formed to investigate February 9 incidents on the campus. The union, in a statement, had pointed out that although majority of suspended students came from marginalised sections, there was no member from such sections in the enquiry panel. The JNU Students Union has severe apprehensions about the neutrality of this committee. The committee, even before following due process, has debarred the eight students from all academic activity. When the case is already prejudged, how can the committee conduct any fair investigation? Through the memorandum, we also raised concerns about the constitution of the committee, which consists of former members of ABVP and the anti-reservation Youth for Equality, Shehla Rashid, Vice President, JNUSU was quoted as saying. This report can be read here. The students had then submitted a memorandum, signed by over 2,000 students, demanding the administration to take back the debarring of the eight students. The committee has professor Rakesh Bhatnagar, professor Himadri Bohidar and professor Suman K. Dhar as its members.
- To make the entire controversy over the Committee’s composition and its overall credibility murkier, one of the members of the Committee, Rakesh Bhatnagar was ‘awarded’ a Visitor’s Award just five days ago, on March 10, 2016. The report is here. NDTV reported that in the midst of a raging political row over sedition that has engulfed the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the prestigious institution has bagged the President's award for excellence in research and innovation. Tezpur University in Assam has won annual Visitor's award for 'best university'. President Pranab Mukherjee is the Visitor of central universities. "Tezpur University has won the annual Visitor's award for the best university and professor Rakesh Bhatnagar (JNU)as well as the Molecular Parasitology Group of JNU have won the Visitor's awards for 'research' and 'innovation' respectively," a press release by Rashtarapati Bhavan had said. The award was presented yesterday, March 14.
- Meanwhile, in a related development, the Delhi Delhi HC dismissed a plea for action against Kanhaiya Kumar. The petition has alleged that after being released from judicial custody, Kanhaiya has again indulged in anti-national slogans and used the word "azadi" at least 100 times in his speech recently.Delhi High Court Tuesday refused to entertain a plea seeking action against JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar for allegedly making anti-national remarks after being released on interim bail in a sedition case lodged against him reported The Indian Express. Justice Pratibha Rani declined to give the direction sought by a social activist on the ground that there is law and order in place which will take care of if any anti-national slogans are being raised and the petitioner need not worry about the image of the nation. It also questioned the locus of the petitioner for filing the present petition seeking direction to take necessary action for the offence of sedition allegedly committed by Kanhaiya and to refer the matter for further investigation by Intelligence Bureau in the interest of justice. The court also sought presence of petitioner Dev Dutt Sharma so that he is aware of the cost which may be imposed on him for filing this writ petition. Following this, advocate Sugriva Dubey wished to withdraw the petition and the court treated it dismissed as withdrawn.
- JNU students Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, arrested in the sedition case over a controversial event in the varsity’s campus, are presently in judicial custody. Today, March 15, 2016 their remand to judicial custody was extended by a further 14 days.