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Prominent historian Romila Thapar terms JNU arrests horrific, calls students', teachers' protests "remarkable"

JNU assistant professor Dr Rohit addressing protesters
By Our Representative
In a strong defence of protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi against police action and arrest of JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges, top historian Romila Thapar has said she is “delighted by the reaction” on the campus, where students and teachers came together to “defend” not just those who were arrested and also the university.
Saying that it was “really remarkable that the university came together in that fashion”, Thapar, who is professor emeritus at JNU, talking with writer Githa Hariharan in a video released by the Indian Cultural Forum, said, “It is striking at the heart of any institution that should be a viable institution in a society.”
Pointing out that no institution exists in a vacuum, Thapar said, what is happening with the institute is “horrific”, adding, all institutions “have a social context”, and if one creates “a situation where that institute is being attacked by the social context, then you are destroying both the context and the institution.”
Thapar said, “I think it was a real sense in which the teachers and students felt it was their institution. And that is extremely encouraging. It is something one is pleased about, because I have spent all my working life there.”
Sharply criticizing those who call JNU a Marxist bastion, called it a “propaganda” which was “absolute nonsense”. She added, “If you do a headcount of the number of people who declare themselves as Marxist it was a fraction, a tiny fraction.”

A different ethos

Pointing towards the new ethos JNU developed, Thapar said, even in 1970s, “in any other university, including Delhi University, you were very quiet about the fact that you were a Marxist, because then people would take it out on you in different ways. But in JNU it didn’t matter.”
She said, “I attribute this to the fact that in many of the other universities, to be a Marxist used to mean you have to be a member of the Communist party. But in JNU because we emphasized on reading so much, and the texts, you could be a philosophical Marxist without being anywhere near the Communist party.”
Thapar underlined, at JNU, the ethos of questioning was developed, where the institution took cognizance of the “historical method” in which “you question existing knowledge and you rediscover what you want to discover.”
Suggesting how this ethos took deep roots in JNU, “It goes back to the early years of JNU… Ours was among the first of the universities, which said, we will have student faculty committees, students sitting on the board of studies, we will have students sitting in the academic council.”
Pointing towards how the university asserted itself even during the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975, Thapar said, “It was during the emergency when the police first came in to pick up people in the university. At the time, the vice chancellor actually went and saw whoever was concerned and said you can’t pick up students like this, you may have problem with politicians.”

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