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  • Keerthana Panchanathan and Navya Asopa

Jindal Students Protest after Peers Suspended, Physically Abused for Ram Mandir Discussion

On the evening of Thursday, February 15, students of O.P. Jindal Global University staged a protest aimed at securing dialogue with Chief Proctor Karan Latayan and the university administration. The protest came hot at the heels of Ramnit Kaur and Mukundan Nair’s suspensions following a critical discussion fronted by the duo on the Ram Mandir consecration. 

The mobilisation was fronted by fifth-year students frustrated at the deteriorating state of freedom of expression and frequent infringement of student liberty on campus, The Edict has learnt.

“It was honestly an apolitical protest,” Student 1, affiliated to the movement, tells us on call. “The demands that we raised were about the safety [of students], . . . political spaces, and the shutting down of student opinions.” 

The protest ran from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm in an open space near the university’s main gate, recording a turnout of over 150 students.

The protesters put forth a list of eight demands to the Chief Proctor. These included the removal of JSW Group chairman Sajjan Jindal’s name from an academic block (following accusations of sexual assault levelled against Jindal last year), a written apology from the Chief Proctor for the alleged manhandling of two female students by campus security, reassurance that such an incident would never reoccur, and the unequivocal withdrawal of Ramnit Kaur and Mukundan Nair’s suspensions.

The Chief Proctor reached the protest site to “diffuse the situation.” Hershall, one of the student organisers, noted that students felt disillusioned by Latayan’s pacificatory answers: “He sweet talked to everyone and. . .  was able to sort of just diffuse the crowd completely… he was shutting people down or giving some excuses, [and] in many cases, lying.”

The Discussion and Online Threats

Late on February 7, students from the Revolutionary Students’ League (RSL), including Ramnit and Mukundan, held a public discussion on the Ram Mandir inauguration and its history, titled, “Ram Mandir: a Farcical Project of Brahmanical Hindutva Fascism.”

Within 20 minutes, members of the Abhinav Bharat Reading Circle, a campus outlet affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), interrupted the event.

“There were eight people who had joined the discussion when around thirty people from the right wing in our campus under the banner of Abhinav Bharat Reading Circle decided to come and join us,” Ramnit informed The Edict.

“We initially . . . gave them the democratic space to discuss [the issue] . . . but we were able to counter their arguments. Since we were not able to continue the debate further, they decided to disrupt the event,” says Mukundan.

Sloganeering of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ began shortly after. Abhinav Bharat also allegedly held a bhajan close to where the discussion on campus took place. 

A day later, Mukundan and Ramnit received show-cause notices from the office of the Chief Proctor. The notice cited their involvement in putting up posters and engaging in conversation with “extremely derogatory and provocative words aimed at detrimentally affecting the integrity and tranquillity of the University space.”

The notice, according to Ramnit, came in after a Twitter storm proliferated by right-wing publication OP India and others wherein a comment made by Mukundan was misrepresented. 

“What I had initially said was that temples across India have been built over, like, Buddhist Viharas. Then if you follow the same logic as for the Ram Mandir, multiple places of worship will have to be demolished,” Mukundan explained. 

The doctored clip taken out of context online was interpreted as a call to demolish all temples in India.

Members of the RSL began receiving death threats and rape threats. Mukundan’s personal phone number was leaked, leading to him receiving “phone calls from all over India . . . threatening [him] and [his]family.”

OP India accused the RSL of affiliation with the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The RSL is an independent student organisation within Jindal which, Mukundan confirmed, is “. . . in no way affiliated with any political party.”

Ramnit and Mukundan filed a response to the show-cause notice around 10:30 AM on February 10 as was legally permitted. Soon after, Mukundan says, they opted to leave campus, feeling increasingly unsafe owing to harassment by members of Abhinav Bharat.

The Suspension and Assault

On Saturday morning, while both students were out for the day, the Chief Proctor’s Office sent them an email about the Disciplinary Committee Hearing to be held at 11:45 AM. They were intimated only an hour before the hearing.

Ramnit notes, “We hadn't even gotten an hour's notice. Now that is against the principles of natural justice. We are supposed to get a hearing and moreover, we are supposed to get time to prepare for that hearing.”

When they got back to the campus, security at the gate refused to let them enter. Only when Ramnit threatened to alert journalists and media houses did campus security allow them in. Inside the campus, their movements were largely curtailed.

Friends who protested in solidarity with the two had their rooms raided by campus security late at night, violating the University’s operational policy, says Mukundan. 

Mukundan was then “pushed out of campus” and students gathered in support “dragged back into their rooms.” A female student was reportedly physically forced back into her accommodation by a male security guard.

At 2:30 AM, Ramnit’s parents arrived on campus to take her home but she did not wish to go without due procedure. “I was put outside of the main gate in the middle of the night… when the security started assaulting me, pushing me around, manhandling me and trying to put me in my father’s car,” she recounts. A video circulating online depicts Ramnit on all fours, being dragged out of college grounds by campus security. 

Shortly after, O.P. Jindal University released an official notice “banning any kind of political activity” on its grounds. 

All political outfits — barring the RSS-affiliated Abhinav Bharat — were forced to cease activity on campus immediately.

The Edict can confirm neither Ramnit nor Mukundan were present at their suspension hearing. They were informed of their suspension for the remainder of the Spring 2024 semester on February 10.

Those protesting against their suspension on February 15 had their rooms raided by campus security.

Going Forward?

The O.P. Jindal Student Council sided with the administration, says Hershall, an organiser of the 15 February protest.

“I was with a friend, and she knows the President [of the Student Council]. So, the President called her and she put him on speaker for me to hear and he literally said, don't do the protest, don't carry it out.

The Jindal administration, in response to outrage at Ramnit’s manhandling, claimed that they were acting on the request of her parents. No such claim was verified when The Edict spoke to Ramnit. 

Student 1 expressed her disappointment at the lack of sustained mobilisation on campus. “People have really disbanded. . . it has not even been a week.”

Mukundan, however, remains hopeful about the future of the movement. “I’m sure that my suspension will be removed because of the strong student unity that has emerged after this moment.” 

The incident, he says, has brought together students from across political backgrounds at Jindal to unite against administrative infringement on student liberties. “I feel like, even if my suspension is not removed, students will continue organising inside the campus and will fight for their democratic space within the campus.”

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