Jawaharlal Nehru University Vice-Chancellor Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit on Wednesday said that the university doesn't impose food choices on students and stressed that they can debate and agitate but should not indulge in violence.
Her comments came days after two groups clashed allegedly over the serving of non-vegetarian food in a hostel mess where a puja had been organised by some students on the Ram Navami festival.
"It is very unfortunate that the university is being identified because of some fringe groups. I am as nationalistic as anyone else and they are all nationalists," she told reporters to queries on university students being called "'anti-national" by certain sections after some controversial incidents.
Talking about April 10 violence, she said that there are 17 hostels in the university and in 16 of those, everything went on peacefully with the iftar and the Ram Navami puja being organised together. There were objections only to one of the festivities and that is "where I am told the whole conflict started", the VC said.
"That was sorted and it was decided that the non-vegetarian food will be cooked after the havan. The chicken vendor came to supply and he was stopped," she said. The VC also said students from both sides have submitted mobile videos and there is no CCTV footage.
Students had objected to the installation of CCTV cameras a few years back and even removed CCTV cameras. She said that there is no "independent footage'' of the incident.
Pandit said that the varsity respects the food choices of students. The university does not impose any food choice on any student. It is one's personal right and a fundamental right," she told reporters. ''We have zero tolerance towards violence. Debate, discuss, agitate but students should not indulge in violence,'''' the VC said.
Noting that violence also impacts students' careers, she said that battles should be fought "intellectually and not physically". Pandit also met members of the student outfits, including the ABVP, on Wednesday.
"There is no JNUSU currently. Elections have not happened for the last two years (due to the pandemic)," she said. Recalling her time as a student at the university, she said that there were no religious festivities allowed at that time.
"But in the last 20 years, this has been permitted. It is very difficult to stop that because people are very sensitive towards such things. As long as it is done peacefully, we have no issues. This identity has become very strong nowadays," she stressed. Asked whether the university plans to impose any restrictions in light of the current situation, she said that her "philosophy is the panchamrit of democracy, development dissent, difference and diversity".
The VC also reiterated that a hostel mess is run by the students and the wardens and the administration has nothing to do with them. "Anything by the administration will be seen as imposition or violation of their right," she said.
Pandit, who is the first woman vice-chancellor of the university, said that from what she has learnt so far, people from outside the Kaveri hostel were involved in the April 10 incident.
"Ours is an open campus and guests come in. People can enter the campus on a bus and it's difficult to keep a check. There are ex-students who come to the campus and then there are guests also who come in. It is difficult to check the IDs of everyone and monitor.
"From what I have learnt that outsiders from other hostels were involved in the attack. It might have been pre-planned. We have instituted a proctorial inquiry and when the report will come out, we will share the facts," she said. There has also been a growing clamour for the removal of the current security agency in light of the January 5, 2020 violence, the April 10 clash and a spate of burglaries in the campus.
Pandit said that theywill be appointing a new agency. Appealing to students, she said that they are all JNUiites first. "I don't see them as being from some ideology. You are all JNUiites first," she said.