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Authoritarianism at its Finest

In an unprecedented step, the JMI administration, suspended Professor Sonya Surabhi Gupta who was the returning officer for the JTA elections, citing her actions as unlawful. In addition to this, the Jamia Teachers Association was dissolved till further notice. Given that this blatantly dishonest and tyrannical step is basically a precursor to annihilating the JTA and another way of suppressing the democratic voices of the Jamia fraternity, it is shameful that there was no resistance from the students and professors.

Credits: Prensa Latina

On November 17, the Jamia Millia Islamia administration suspended Professor Sonya Surabhi Gupta, Centre of Spanish and Latin American Studies, over her role as the returning officer (RO) for JTA elections in 2022. A notification issued by Professor Gupta regarding the conduct of the elections was also declared null and void, the JTA was dissolved, and their office was sealed till further notice. The university also threatened disciplinary action against members attending the General Body meeting on November 18 called by the JTA, which was ultimately cancelled.

These actions were completely uncalled for and thus seem like a calculated move by the administration to repress the voices of the teachers. The whole issue stood on shaky reasoning from the start. After Professor Gupta issued the notification on October 26 and the final nomination list was released on November 16, the registrar issued a memo on the 17th declaring the notification null and void, citing that JTA has not been “approved by a competent body” and her appointment was illegal as the term of the JTA office bearers had ended in May.

Although far from perfect, the Jamia Teachers Association is an almost six-decade-old teachers union that has served the interests of the teachers and raised its voice on pressing issues ranging from leave rules to CAA protests. It is an independent body that is subordinate to no one and does not require the prior consent of the authorities for its activities. So, it is baffling to realise that JTA’s constitution must now be approved by the JMI authorities, and the simple exercise of conducting an election is unlawful. It should be highly concerning for anyone that still cares for the basic right to speech.

The Jamia administration is engaging in what is called “union busting,” the activity of reducing or destroying the power of a union. Initiating harsh, unjust actions against a select few to stifle dissent is a classic tactic. The Registrar justified dissolving the JTA by reasoning that its term had ended way back in May. If that is really the case, why was action taken so late? Why was the university allowing a supposedly illegal organization to function for almost six months on its premises? Why was action taken just before the election that was to be held on November 23? Was it because the university wants a watered-down version of the JTA that is subservient? It is obviously a power grab to establish the iron fist of the administration.

In answer to Professor Gupta’s reply, in which she stated that previous ROs didn’t have to take prior permission, the Registrar said that argument “is not sustainable because if some illegal act has happened in the past, the administration is not bound to carry out the same in perpetuity.” This begs the question: will the Registrar be taking action against all the previous ROs since what they did is allegedly illegal? If not, then is the administration tolerating unlawful activities? Also, why did the Registrar meet with the JTA on September 27 when they were protesting for their demands? Since the JTA’s term had ended in May and it had no legal authority, going by the logic of the administration, wasn’t the registrar willfully engaging with an organization that was “illegal“?

In further proof that the Jamia administration was engaging in bad faith, the VC, in a meeting with the deans of faculties, constituted a “committee to look into the shortcomings of the bye-laws and constitution of the JTA and submit a report within a period of one month so that notification of transparent and smooth conduct of the election of the JTA can be made at the earliest after following due process.” That is a lot of words for ‘I want the JTA to be a stooge’. Rest assured, the administration is working hard day and night to destroy the JTA, a level of dedication that is not seen when it comes to resolving students’ issues.

Surprisingly, the issue was of no concern to the Jamia community. However, a protest for Jamia students should not be confined to reciting mushairas in front of the central canteen. After this incident , the fraternity, unfortunately, went about their business as usual, along with the professors acting like all was well and good, thus formulating no efforts to galvanize support among the students. This aspect, however, should be pondered upon and looked into. The Jamia fraternity cannot claim to be a citadel of resistance against a fascist government while tolerating authoritarianism at home. Remember the lines:

Then they came for the ---
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a ----
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Gunjit Verma is a student pursuing Chemistry Honours from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Bushra Faridi

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Written by Gunjit Verma

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