‘It Is Suffocating’: A Top Liberal University Is Under Attack in India

By John Mercury February 12, 2024

Jawaharlal Nehru University, named for India’s first prime minister, is one of the country’s premier liberal institutions, a hothouse of strong opinions and left-leaning values whose graduates populate the upper echelons of academia and government.

But to the Hindu nationalists who hold power in India, the university and others like it are dangerous dens of “anti-India” ideas. And they are working to silence them.

Masked men have stormed the J.N.U. campus and attacked students, shouting slogans associated with a far-right Hindu group. Vocal supporters of the right-wing governing party who have been installed as administrators have suspended students for participating in protests and, in December, imposed new restrictions on demonstrations. Professors have been denied promotions for questioning government policies.

“It is suffocating,” said Anagha Pradeep, a political science student who has received warnings from J.N.U. after protesting her housing conditions and helping to screen a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “And you can’t learn in fear.”

The pressure being put on J.N.U. is part of a broader effort to neutralize dissenting voices — media organizations, human rights groups, think tanks — as right-wing Hindus pursue their cause of transforming India into an explicitly Hindu nation.

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