On Friday, the Delhi police registered two FIRs against students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi for the “wrongful restraint of two rectors in the administration block”. Students had surrounded the administrative block after the vice-chancellor refused to meet students to discuss their opposition to the new mandatory attendance rule, which mandates a minimum of 75 percent attendance for JNU students.
It’s a bizarre rule to impose on a primarily post-graduate university with a majority of students engaged in research, which naturally isn’t conducted between 9 to 5 in a classroom. More importantly, as Vikas Bandwala in The Wire points out, a step like this, beyond being unsuitable for the specific nature of JNU itself, also borrows soul-sucking practices from the corporate and industrial world to measure student accountability, and endangers the idea of education “as a sustained love affair with ideas, art, literature, practice, and discipline” in favour of “measuring intellectual labour through the limited prism of ‘in class’ or ‘on campus’”.
It’s also set to affect women students disproportionately. One of the proposed penalties for not attaining 75 percent attendance is to remove defaulting students from university hostels. In a piece called Why JNU’s Women Students Are Up In Arms Against The Compulsory Attendance Policy in the Huffington Post today, Rituparna Chatterjee details how this has unique repercussions for women students.
To many female students, getting an education at an institution like JNU is their only chance at upward mobility and escaping marriages their families would otherwise force them into. Having to compromise their research in favour of attending classes they don’t need for their work, or being forced to leave the institution for not having enough attendance, which they can lose out on for a variety of reasons, only puts another obstacle in their paths towards successfully completing their education. Some students in the piece speak of the difficulty of managing child care while pursuing their degrees and research, never mind the new added pressure of mandatory attendance.
Any rule that increases university control over students, especially in terms of recording where they are and dictating exactly how they learn, is one to be regarded with deep suspicion. A rule like this, which students and teachers say was put in place by the administration without consulting with them, is clearly facing opposition from those it’s meant for, can only interfere with free research, and women, as always, will have a higher price to pay for it.