Communal Polarization in JNU

Report from JNU , Delhi

(Jawagar Lal Nehru University, Delhi)


On 21 November 2015, three wardens of the Jhelum Hostel received a complaintfrom a resident about a potentially hazardous situation arising out of a naked fire being for a havan being conducted inside one of the hostel rooms. Three Jhelum wardens — Burton Cleetus, Himanshu, and Ashutosh Anand — together with four security guards went to investigate. They found a room in which there had indeed been an open fire until recently, as the embers were still smouldering. There were about twenty people in and around the room. The wardens asked these students, as well as the other residents who had also joined in to disperse peacefully. A few persons began to argue that Hindus were not being allowed to practice their religious rituals in the celebration of a birthday , but the wardens were not provoked into any discussion along such lines. The crowd dispersed, and a few hours later, the wardens after consultation with the Provost office, issued a show cause notice to two people for creating a fire hazard in the hostel.

Although three of the Jhelum wardens were involved in this minor incident, at around noon on 23 November, it was only Burton Cleetus who received a call from the Vasant Kunj police station saying that a police complaint had been filed against him alone and that he should report to the police station immediately. He was told that the police complaint against him could amount to charges of hurting religious sentiments, sexual harassment, and the Prevention of Atrocities Act.

The other wardens spoke to the police officer and convinced him to send the investigating officer to Jhelum hostel. The IO came met with all the wardens and other witnesses, who all assured her that at no point during or after the incident did Dr. Burton Cleetus kick the havan samagri, pull students’ ponytails or utter casteist, communal, and sexist abuses, as has been alleged in the complaint. The wardens also pointed out that the fact that only Dr. Burton Cleetus has been named even though all three wardens had been equally involved in the ‘incident’ suggested a communal motivation to the complaint. The IO however said she could not close the case as there was a great deal of interest in the complaint at the level of her superiors. These false allegations have been vituperatively shared on WhatsApp, social media, and the press. The Dainik Jagaran story characterised the story to be one in which A ‘Christian Professor’ forcibly stopped ‘Hindu students’ from practicing their religion. There is no doubt that Dr. Burton Cleetus is being selectively targeted only because he is Christian, a minority.

After some efforts by the JNUTA to approach the administration to intervene, the police have asked JNU to ask GSCASH to enquire into the sexual harassment charges and there is also to be another internal investigation into the incident. However, these moves should NOT assure us that the police complaint will not be made into an FIR or that Dr. Burton Cleetus’ security is under threat.

In the emergency JNUTA GBM yesterday, the JNUTA has met and unanimously condemned this attempt at communal polarisation and demanded from the JNU administration that it must give legal protection and security to Dr. Cleetus. However, it cannot be only the administration to whom we entrust maintenance of campus’ harmony. This post is therefore to bring the matter to the attention of the JNU and wider community and to appeal to secular and progressive forces everywhere to support Dr. Cleetus (and the other wardens of Jhelum hostel).

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