JNU students have been protesting against a steep fee hike and regressive hostel rules for the last 15 days.
On November 11, thousands of students at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University marched to the All India Council for Technical Education auditorium where the convocation ceremony for the university’s outgoing students was taking place. The vice president of India, Venkaiah Naidu was the chief guest of the convocation.
Students were holding “Say No to fee hike” and “fees must fall” slogans and placards and wanted to meet the HRD minister.
The students’ protest against massive fee hike and other regressive measures has been going on for the past 15 days. The protest march was led by the JNU students’ union (JNUSU).
The Vice-Chancellor of JNU has refused to engage with the students and discuss their demands, so students decided to meet human resource development minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ and submit their memorandum to him.
Seeing the student numbers in 1000s, police, and paramilitary deployed on the area started attacking students. Many students were brutally attacked by batons, lathis and charged with water cannons. Many students were injured in the police attack and some of the students were also detained.
JNU turned into an armed cantonment
The university gates were heavily barricaded on Monday morning to restrict a march of more than 3,000 students. Students who managed to get past the barricade were detained by the pre-deployed CRPF and police forces.
However, despite the police violence, the students refused to go back and were successful in submitting a memorandum of demands to the Minister of Human Resource Development, Ramesh Pokhriyal. The minister has given an assurance that the Ministry of Human Resource Development will arrange a meeting with the administration on the issue of fee hike and other measures.
Why are the students protesting?
The media that normally ignores JNU unless it has to make a scapegoat of the “Tukde Tukde gang”. The media attention came on Monday when students in 1000s came to AICTE meet HRD minister.
However, the protest started in the last week of October against the steep fee hike, university’s attempt to impose curfew timings on access to public spaces on the campus. It’s not just the university fee that is increased, but hostel rooms and mess charges are also doubled.
Almost half of JNU students come from below poverty line families with annual incomes of less than 1lakh 40 thousand Rupees.
Hostel fees have been increased 10 fold from Rs. 2700 to Rs.30,000 annually. In addition, students have to pay higher for the monthly mess bill and new water and electricity bills. An increase in mess charges only further adds Rs. 10,000 to student expenses.
This increase in fees is no coincidence. Since it came into power, JNU is an eyesore for BJP for its left-wing politics. It has been trying to control the university by its VC, Jagdish Kumar, who is an RSS man and has been at the center for a lot of protests since he took the position.
BJP had tried to defame the university and students by fake news and media campaign on social media and TV and portray them as the “anti-nationals” , “tukde tukde gang “and “urban Naxals” and such. Then it was the changes in admission policies to put more weightage to viva making it challenging for students from poorer margianlised backgrounds to qualify the exams.
JNU is one of the few government educational institutes that provide good education at much lower fees such that students from the poorest of the family can afford basic rights like food and shelter.
Students are not just protesting their fee hike but also the BJP govt’s education policy. The policy advocates for fund cuts especially fund cuts in higher education in successive budgets has led to such fee hikes in universities. This directly affects the future of thousands of students.
The neoliberal order that the government is implementing will be throwing the poor and marginalised out of the “temples of knowledge” and again in the lap of rich and elites.
The NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been spearheading a rapid neoliberal economic campaign in India, which threatens the idea of education for all, as high fees will make universities accessible only for the rich.
BJP government wants to dismantle the university so that it becomes easy to sell off and privatise the university. The plan is to make it like any other private university where only the rich and elite can get an education.
Former student leader Umar Khalid says: Our education system has taught us that education is not a commodity to be bought in the market. This government has enough money to waive off the lakhs of crores of corporate debt, but none to invest in education and health care.
If this fee hike is allowed to be pushed through, it would have a disastrous consequence for students, mostly those coming from marginalized backgrounds. They will be forced to drop out of the university. JNU right now is fighting for a dream that we all should aspire towards – that nobody is forced to discontinue education only because of want of resources.