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Jai Bhim in JNU: Freedom or Social Justice?

Jai Bhim in JNU: Freedom or Social Justice?

jai bhim babu hardas


Vruttant Manwatkar

“Your salvation must lie in your own hands, through your own efforts”.
~ Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

‘Bole India – Jai Bhim’- This is the title of a low budget Marathi movie which is under production by Shree Gayatri Films. The movie is one of the first ones made in the memory of the originator of the slogan ‘Jai Bhim’- Babu Hardas L.N. What began as a greeting among the untouchable Mahar community in a small town, Kamptee, in Nagpur District of Maharashtra, ‘Jai Bhim’ has now become a wide-spread usage throughout India. The Bahujan class across India has started adopting it as a new greeting replacing the established Hindu cultural greetings like ‘Namaskar’ and ‘Ram-Ram’. Along with the persistent labour of Social Organizations like BAMCEF, AIMBSCS etc., and by the efforts of the aware and class conscious Bahujan individuals, ‘Jai Bhim’, today has taken the form of an emerging Cultural and Political Movement for the establishment of Democracy. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), has not been untouched by this movement. jai bhim babu hardas

In JNU too, one can witness students exchanging the greetings of ‘Jai Bhim’, amongst those mostly belonging to the Bahujan Class. Moreover, the slogan of ‘Jai Bhim’ has exceptionally marked its presence as a war cry of assertion by the Bahujan students of the University, who struggle to reclaim their due rights and resources.

Babu Hardas L.N was born on 6th January 1904 in Kamptee. Along with the introduction of the powerful slogan/greeting ‘Jai Bhim’, the credit of organising the first public celebration of Ambedkar Jayanti also goes to Babu Hardas L.N. It was under his leadership that the first celebration of Ambedkar Jayanti took place on 14th April, 1933 at Nagpur. The celebration of Ambedkar Jayanti nowadays has developed its own unique ethics which propagates the Ambedkarite-Buddhist ideas of Education, Organisation and Agitation. These celebrations also see 18-hour study programmes, book and stationary distribution, distribution of prizes to students etc., at different venues, including the Dikshabhoomi. Along with opening of libraries, lectures and other cultural programmes. All these events inspire the youngsters and adults alike to educate and empower themselves. Babu Hardas L.N. started the weekly called “Maharattha” meaning “the power of Mahars” in 1921 when he was 18 years of age in order to spread social awareness, especially about education. Babu also spearheaded the movement of the Beedi labourers of Kamptee which was successful in clinching several of their basic demands. One of the most significant contributions of Babu Hardas L.N. in the Ambedkarite movement was during the time of Babasaheb’s participation in the Second Round Table Conference, in September 1931, when he mobilised people from all over the country, and mainly from Maharashtra, to confirm at the London Conference that Dr. Ambedkar was the only representative of the Depressed Classes in India. One remarkable fact was that there were 32 telegrams sent from Kamptee, to London, for this purpose. Dedicating his whole life to the cause of the upliftment of the depressed classes and remaining an ardent supporter of Dr. Ambedkar, Babu Hardas L.N died a sudden death at the age of 35 on 12th January 1939.

This essay may be considered as a commemorative memoir honouring the irreplaceable contribution of Babu Hardas L.N and his ‘Jai Bheem’ movement or a descriptive assessment reflecting upon the current political culture in JNU. Either definition would work, so far as it solves the purpose behind its presentation i.e., the moral reinforcement of the movement of the depressed classes of India for reclaiming their Human Personality. Accordingly, I have attempted to juxtapose the ideal of Social Justice and Freedom relating them with the concepts of Exclusion and Assertion. The objective is to briefly assess the current political culture of JNU, marked by the shifts visible in the exposition of schisms present in differing political processes. The students of political science and culture are invited to JNU to observe for themselves and study the current shifts visible in myriad political-cultural events ranging from Student Union Elections to the suspensions of students coming from marginalized backgrounds. Subsequently, the close observation of the movement of these students fighting exclusion in the academic spaces provides an unambiguous view of their struggle with the oppressive system as “the discourse of Exclusion may serve as a window through which to view political culture” (Riggs 1988). It is important to keep in mind that in a similar fashion, students in Hyderabad Central University faced Exclusion on campus, leading to the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula in 2016.

In order to scrutinize the overall situation, it is imperative here to discuss the divide in two separate approaches of the struggle. In this respect, the fundamental ideal of Social Justice vis-à-vis Freedom becomes necessary owing to the fact that they are in contestation in the current Political backdrop of JNU. It is also much needed to elaborate the structure of the schism deeply rooted in social, political and cultural engagements among the constituents of the University. Thus this context should serve the basic objective of exposing the binaries which have been kept obscure for decades in the struggle for Democracy. The naming and re-naming of the site of protests by the student leaders and organizations, officially called as the Administrative Block, during the recent occasions of political mobilizations, is a glaring example of this significant contestation.

To put it briefly, this contest was visible in the scepticism of various student organizations regarding their participation in the #StandWithJNU movement which according to them was an elite, upper caste Savarna-led movement that lacked the necessary appeal calling for Social Justice. In this same movement the above mentioned site of protest was named as ‘Freedom Square’ by the so-called upper-caste, Savarna student leaders. Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) had led this movement. Not surprisingly, this movement was exhibited as a glorious hope of a fantastic revolution by almost all the media firms throughout the country. The individual students or organizations that restricted their support to the much hyped #StandWithJNU movement mostly belonged to the marginalized sections of Indian Society, politically categorized as the ‘Bahujan’ class. During this movement, there were the differing voices rising in the political scene, but these differing voices hardly got any space while presenting the holistic scenario of JNU politics. Perhaps, in the trajectory of the critique of #StandWithJNU which organized the series of lectures on Nationalism that barely touched the aspects of Social Justice, there were also the organizations of lectures based on the ideas of Social Justice by a leading Bahujan Political Organization ‘BAPSA’.

Co-incidentally, there arises a similar kind of movement in the current political scenario of JNU. As an aftermath to a protest (boycotted by the JNUSU) demanding reconsideration of amendments passed by the Academic Council, 9 students were suspended without trial, all belonging to SC, ST or OBC categories. The parties involved in and leading this movement are constituted by groups of Bahujan students, whereas the (AISA-SFI led) JNUSU is proving to be an utter failure in dealing with the issues of the Bahujan class while functioning in tandem with a majority of the JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA). These Bahujan students are seeking the fulfilment of specific demands primarily concerned with ensuring Social Justice to the students and the faculty of JNU, namely:-

• Reduction of the viva-voce marks from 30 to 10 marks
• Implementation of the Prof. Abdul Nafey Committee Recommendation
• Implementation of Minority Deprivation points
• Revoking the fee-hike in the admission process
• Immediate withdrawal of suspension orders slapped on 9 students from oppressed minorities
• Implementation of SC, ST, OBC Reservation in faculty posts and Direct PhD.

The JNU Administration has failed to ensure the due constitutional Justice to the marginalized sections of the Indian society. The suspended students are spearheading the current movement by pressing the demands raised by them, on behalf of the Bahujans. In this case again, not surprisingly, the prejudiced, casteist character of the majority of Indian Media is evident where no attention or coverage is given to the involved students and issues belong to the Indian Bahujan class.

The persistently engendering schism – between the section that maintained and retained resources by forcefully tormenting the already marginalized and depressed, by the agency of inhumane caste system, and the section which has been struggling hard to reclaim the resources and their humanhood for centuries while being at the tormented side – manifests consistent class struggle which is aimed at the transformation of society. However, this schism is deliberately concealed by the pseudo-progressives/Indian Marxists/Leftists in the name of ‘Unity’. This ‘unity’ is very vague in nature for it does not have the necessary support of the Bahujan class which should make the other half of that unity. In its essence, it conjures an abstract notion, put forth by the so-termed upper-caste Savarna Leftists only when there emerges a productive consolidation of the Bahujans. This so called ‘unity’ is hollow at its core and baseless in its location, which is often represented in the slogan of ‘Jai Bhim-Laal Salam’. In metaphor, the schism represents the Caste system as a deep wound of the Indian society, where ‘unity’ is nothing but the covered embellishment on only the upper layer of skin. Fortunately, a certain ‘Doctor’ has discovered the medicine for this wound. The need of the hour is to apply the medicine and get rid of the chronic pain. Nevertheless, this process of healing demands the exposition of the wound. Here then arises the discussion and engagement on the concealed prejudices and vested interests carried on by the pseudo-progressive savarnas.

Thus, the case becomes an apparent contest between a movement led by savarnas for Bahujans and a movement led by Bahujans for themselves. This distinction is now grounded on the assertion made by the currently suspended Bahujan student leaders, as opposed to being ‘represented’. The assertion comprises of the reclamation of the space, or site of protest, by renaming it as ‘Social Justice Square’ as opposed to ‘Freedom Square’. On numerous occasions they have vehemently criticized the spectacular movement of #StandWithJNU under savarna leadership, often ridiculing the actuality of its nil achievements in the guise of a catchy show of Revolution. They comprehensively pressed for the realization of Social Justice in order to attain the state of Freedom which is meaningless unless shared Equally by all classes and not just savarnas. There is also a consistent rise of a class-consciousness among the students particularly belonging to the depressed classes which is evident in such and other assertions and reclamations. This class consciousness is the historical necessity in order to achieve the state of Equality.

In summing up, considering the progressive location of the University in creating novel ideas, it is relevant here to reiterate one of the prevalent maxims of JNU which says, “What JNU thinks today, the rest of India thinks tomorrow.” If there is any iota of truth in this statement then it would not be a hyperbole to say that India shall soon see a resurgence of Bahujan Politics wherein ‘Jai Bhim’, as a cultural and political slogan, plays the role of a revolutionary medium to bind the class-conscious Bahujans together. These Bahujans, working upon the disagreements and differences within themselves and with the other classes, can all together establish a Democratic state by realizing the goals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The extensive reach of the ‘Jai Bhim’ movement throughout, initiated by Babu Hardas L.N. will always be a source of inspiration and courage for the struggling Bahujan masses.


Vruttant Manwatkar is a PhD scholar in SIS, JNU