Social media has been split in the middle when it comes to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) protests. While the students have found support from people who believe that a fee hike would put education out of the reach of many, right-wingers have been trolling them with vicious claims and mockery.
This doesn’t come as a surprise at all—since 2016, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government has been trying to muzzle dissent at the intensely political university, one of India’s best educational institutions. It has already partly succeeded in vilifying JNU and its students by painting them as “anti-national”.
Some of the arguments put forward by critics are that JNU students are getting subsidised education with taxpayers’ money (the obvious answer to that is that every Indian should have access to this—education is a right, not a privilege), that they spend years in the campus (it takes at least 8 years, if not more, to get MA, MPhil and PhD degrees from a university) and the intensely elite “why are poor children doing language courses?”. Not satisfied with this, some Twitter handles associated with the BJP have been tweeting fake photos to influence public opinion.
Keya Ghosh, social media in-charge of West Bengal BJP Mahila Morcha, who is also followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter, tweeted a photo with a rhetorical question, asking whether a woman with grey hair being arrested by the police was a JNU student. The woman in the photo is actually CPI leader Annie Raja, and the photo is from a protest outside the Supreme Court in May, as this NDTV report makes clear.
When a Twitter user pointed out Raja’s identity to Ghosh, she refused to correct herself.
Raja was among a number of activists and women lawyers taken into custody by the police in May during a protest conducted after an in-house panel cleared former CJI Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment allegations.
Ghosh is also among a bunch of right-wingers who have shared an unverified photo of a man, claiming he is a JNU student with an iPhone, calling for the university to be shut down (seriously, what’s the logic here?).
This is not the first time Ghosh has blatantly spread fake news. Earlier this month, she shared a photo of TMC MP Mahua Moitra, claiming she was campaigning for a by-election along with the officer-in-charge of the Thanapara police station.
However,Alt News reported that the photo being circulated by the BJP was a screenshot from a video shared by Moitra in August when the model code of conduct was not in place and before campaigns began.
Several other handles associated with the BJP have also been sharing fake photos to tarnish JNU students. One, Karuna Gopal, who claims to be part of several BJP committees, has shared bizarre photos—including of condoms being used to tie one’s hair (seriously, what’s with the condom obsession?)—to claim that the JNU protests shouldn’t be taken seriously. How does one begin unpacking this? One, the condom photo is part of a list published on Diply in 2018, as one user pointed out. Two, even if women who inexplicably use condoms to tie their hair participate in protests, what’s wrong with that?
JNU students were allegedly badly beaten up by the Delhi Police while trying to march to Parliament on Monday to demand a rollback of a hostel fee hike. Many students have shared photos of themselves and others with injuries.
The protests and the subsequent violence got so much attention that opposition parties brought up the issue in Parliament.
PTI reported that TMC’s Saugata Roy, Congress leader T.N. Prathapan and BSP’s Danish Ali accused the government of using force to suppress the voice of students.
Roy dubbed as “unfortunate” the use of force on students, saying the hike should be rolled back as poor students will find it difficult to pay the amount.
(With PTI inputs)