Accent on integration

Accent on integration
By Ninglun Hanghal, Columnist


On 2 March, Union minister for development of the North-eastern region Jitender Singh told scholars, most of them from North-east states, and faculty members and the vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, that the process for the proposed hostel for North-east students would be completed soon. He was speaking at a roundtable talk on “Unfolding development potential of the region — sustainability and policy perspective”, organised by the JNU in collaboration with the ministry. He also stated that in the Union Budget, Rs 2,362.74 crore had been allocated for development of the region.

Noting the huge number of North-east students and faculty members in the JNU as significant and remarkable, the minister said “the academic potential of the North-east is under-exploited. Of the 8,000 students in the JNU, there are  512 were from the North-east states”. He also announced, besides several initiatives, that his ministry would collaborate with the JNU-North East study programmes at various academic levels and research. Mega events such as film festivals would be organised in the national capital and also in Mumbai to tap Bollywood filmmakers. An N-E hostel is estimated to cost Rs 95 crore and it will have 500 rooms, a dining hall, warden flats and common rooms.

While 50 per cent seats will be reserved for students from the Northeast, the rest will be for students from other parts of the country.

According to the JNU website, there is hostel accommodation for 5,500 students. Of this, 15 per cent is reserved for Schedule Castes and 7.5 per cent for Schedule Tribes. At present, there are 18 hostel for boys and girls, and one for married couples. All the hostels are named after rivers, such as Ganga, Tapti, Narmada, Brahmaputra and Lohit (Arunachal Pradesh).

There have been some reactions over the exclusive hostel for students from the North-east states, with many feeling that such a move is regressive rather than progressive. That it will be a blot on the reputation of the JNU, known for its liberal views and stands. Some argue that such a move would further alienate North-east students. Some even feel that a secluded hostel would amount to “ghettoisation”.

Strongly objecting to the proposal, Partha S Ghosh, in a letter published in the Economic and Political Weekly (28 February) says that nothing will hit the ethos of the JNU harder than such moves for an exclusive hostel for a certain section of the student community. The university is known for its inclusive culture which is reflected through its vibrant hostel life. Jawaharlal Nehru, in whose name the university was established in 1969, had always stood for inter-communal and inter-regional harmony. he wrote. He quoted the university insignia that says, “A University stands for humanism. For tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives.”

Ghosh called upon the university authorities to reconsider their decision, even if it may be a little late in the day. He recalled a past a decision to dedicate one accommodation, which was stopped after opposition.

In fact the JNU has for a long time been facing an acute shortage to comply. Now, only 5,500 out of 8,000 can be accommodated.

North-east scholars and faculty members in the JNU too do not subscribe to the idea though many agree that North-east students face hardships. One important point being the food served in the hostel mess which is mostly North and South Indian fare. There are no North-east items in any hostel. Some believe that one hostel providing North-east food would be a good initiative.

Caroline Maninee, a scholar at the Centre for Political Studies, says, “Our food culture is very different, at times we spend a lot of money eating outside as North-east food is not provided in the mess and our payments go in vain. If South and North Indian dishes are provided, why not North-east too?”

Citing her experience, she said, “If we take our chutney to the mess room, friends from other regions walk away or move to other tables, leaving us as though we are eating something dirty.” While agreeing that a separate North-east hostel is not a good move, she feels that of the existing hostels one can have a North-east mess — “at the least on alternate days or weekends”.

According to Professor Bhagat Oinam, Department of Philosophy and former director of the North-east Study Programme, JNU, a separate hostel would serve as an exclusion of North-east students rather than integration. He said “this will ghettoise North-east students”. Instead, the proposed hostel should have seats reserved for North-east students and its name should not bear the tag “North East Hostel”.