How do I prepare for the JNUEE
Attack on Delhi University"Traumatic for students and professors"
Lena Sterz: When masked men storm the dormitory and beat students with iron bars, then one can no longer speak of normal student protests, then it is a state of emergency. This state of emergency has been going on for a few days now. That is why today we are talking in depth about the situation in India, more precisely at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, or JNU in New Delhi. Protests have been going on there for months, but things are currently getting worse.
Peter Marx is professor of theater studies at the University of Cologne and through a cooperation between the University of Cologne and the JNU has regular contact with employees and students in Delhi and has often been there himself. I asked him how the situation is currently in Delhi.
Peter Marx: The situation is indeed unsettling and traumatizing for students and professors in a way that can hardly be imagined. Since the end of last year, around October, there have been protests by the students against an increasing tightening of the examination regulations, increases in tuition fees, all of which are part of a deep conflict that is currently putting the JNU in tension between the administration, which is pro-government, and the academic culture for which the JNU stands: a liberal, open and, in fact, highly committed form of science.
JNU a "signal of the awakening of Indian society"
Sterz: Yes, the JNU in Delhi is not a particularly large university, but in some areas it is considered to be the best in South Asia. Can you describe a little more? You have been there several times: what else makes the university so special?
Marx: The JNU has actually been a showcase project of the Indian government, with the intention of establishing a postgraduate university, i.e. a university from the master's level, which has a focus in the field of cultural and social sciences, but also in the field of technical sciences. And it is actually a model university, a lighthouse within the Indian university landscape. The best students from all over the country apply for the study places, and it is programmatic for this university that it tries, so to speak, to bring together as diverse a student body as possible. In this respect, this university is actually more than a pure educational institution, but I would really say that it is a symptom or it was a signal of the awakening of Indian society, which is now particularly attacked for this.
(ZUMA Wire / Tamal Shee) India: Protests after attack on elite university
After violent clashes on the university campus in Delhi, there have been student protests across the country.
Sterz: You said that this university, the JNU, has a very diverse student body, what does that mean in India?
Marx: In India this means that you take into account the different regions as well as the different religious affiliations, but also the different social backgrounds. The Indian caste system has officially been abolished, but it still has a great impact in reality, in social reality, and the JNU admission rules take special account of students who apply here with a background of disadvantage.
"Utopian ideal of a university"
Sterz: This can be especially students from lower castes, from difficult social and financial circumstances, the whole thing fits in with the fact that the university is also seen more as liberal or left-wing. Can one say that this university has long been a haven of resistance and that is why it is particularly shaken by protests now?
Marx: This is something that was already shown in the first legislative period of the Modi government, whereby I would speak less of a refuge of resistance and more actually a commitment to an idea of freedom and tolerance. And maybe you have to clarify the background again: Because this student body is so diverse, and because it comes from all over the country, one of the special features is that most of the students and the faculty actually live on campus . The campus is a very large area, a beautiful green area, where there is sometimes so much unspoiled nature that there are deer and other wild animals there. And it is special that in the middle of this metropolis there is, so to speak, this utopian ideal of a university where students and professors live together, but that is precisely why their safety is of course so important. And attacking them there does not just mean attacking a training institution, but rather meeting people in their most private sphere. The press reports, which can be read from various sources, unanimously report that student dormitories, for example, were stormed, that is, the aim was to spread terror and deny people any possibility of retreat.
"Large parts of the security staff exchanged"
Sterz: Yes, you also told me beforehand that this has been a little hinted at over the past few months, that there have always been small changes that you noticed in September when you were last there. What kind of small changes are these?
Marx: This administration, the university management, has been changing the rules of the game for years. Co-determination committees will be abolished, examination requirements will be abolished, suddenly there is a change in deadlines, so that students are suddenly affected by de-registration. One of the signals that was difficult to classify in September was the fact that apparently large parts of the security personnel had been replaced. And we're talking about people who have lived with the students on campus for years, sometimes even decades, and who have suddenly been replaced by external forces. It's hard not to suspect that this has anything to do with the attacks we've seen now.
Sterz: What is the significance of these security personnel for the students on site?
Marx: In a city like Delhi, which is also familiar with crime, crime and violence, especially violence against women, the security of a space in which male or female students, regardless of religion, regardless of regional affiliation, can move freely, actually have a security room, a privilege and a luxury that the JNU has always broadcast and used very strongly in the years that I have now visited it - for an intellectual atmosphere that is incredibly stimulating and inspiring. Changing these prerequisites, sowing insecurity here, creating terror here, actually means laying the ax to the roots of this university.
"Climate of Fear" is spreading in Delhi
Sterz: How do you fear how the situation could change in the future - at the university and perhaps also in all of India?
Marx: What we see right after Modi's election victory last year is an increase in nationalist aspirations. In the legislative area, this takes place in areas that are initially not associated with it, such as citizenship law, which is very specifically designed to ensure that people who may not be able to present the necessary documents lose their citizenship. You can see that in fields like Kashmir, where the Indian government is very deliberately fueling the conflict with Pakistan, perhaps not so much to act out the conflict with Pakistan, but to create an anti-Muslim mood. The danger I see is that if institutions like the JNU - and it is only the tip of an iceberg of universities that are under great pressure at the moment - that if these institutions are lost, if these institutions no longer do that what makes them strong and great, namely to be beacons of liberal, intellectual culture, then the question will be what the long-term consequences are for Indian society and who will still feel committed to an ideal of democracy, participation and equality. You could very easily reflect that back to us, so to speak: Who are we actually talking to? And that is something that is really a big cause for concern.
Sterz: Since the Hindu nationalist party of Modi came to power, the problems for Muslim people in India have gradually come to a head, one can say that some see a parallel to early Nazi Germany. Would you say that something similar can be seen in India today?
Marx: When I was in Delhi in September, I was very shocked to see how strong a climate of fear is spreading, how much government agencies are increasingly resorting to open repressive measures. It's not a matter of prosecuting someone and putting them in jail for a long time. But arresting someone - people can be held in custody for up to three days without charge - searching the house, confiscating books, computers, hard drives, all of this creates a climate of fear and intimidation, and that is deliberate. And that is the beginning of the attempt to create a totalitarian system in which, so to speak, conformity with the state ideology, which is being postulated more and more aggressively, to a certain extent. I really believe that a society is at a tipping point here and that we must also observe very closely from the outside and feel that we are being addressed which forces and which dialogues we are trying to maintain. It is not about direct political influence, that is not our business, but that we do not let the threads of the conversation break and that we make sure that there will still be institutions in ten years with which we can hold talks.
Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.
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