Once again the fists of dissent pointed to the blue skies at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi to mark their protracted and peaceful protest against the “regressive” Draft Hostel Manual arbitrarily pushed by the administration led by a dictatorial vice-chancellor who has pushed only one agenda since he took over: to destroy the intellectual, academic and political essence of this great university. The movement going on since October 28, registered its fiery spirit on the streets of JNU and across the campus.
The students of JNU echoed their inherited progressive legacy and wrote their future in the ink of rebellion against the manual which came in line after the lockdown of the legendary democratic space of the JNU community – the Parthasarthy Plateau, curfews in the hostel, massive hike in hostel fees thereby denying almost 50 per cent of JNU students from financially weak backgrounds the right to higher education, and moral policing about orthodox normative codes on how to “dress appropriately”.
The Hostel Manual, according to the students, attacks the inclusive, democratic spirit of JNU which brings together students from the most deprived sections of Indian society into a beautiful campus famous for its academic brilliance and rich, secular and pluralist political and intellectual ethos. It attempts to increase the hostel fee by a whopping 374 percent in some cases to an absurdly high 999 percent in other cases. According to the 48th Annual Report 2017-18, of JNU, more than 40 percent of students in the university have annual parental income which is less than Rs 1,44,000. Also, JNU being an institute of higher education, the students don’t prefer to ask for money from their parents. Many of them do part-time work to pay for their hostel and tuition fees.
As a result, only the parental income cannot reflect the whole picture which is even more dismal. In such a scenario, attempts to hike the hostel fee so disproportionately is bound to force the students to drop out mid-way from the various courses. Indeed, this has been a trend in various campuses such as TISS in Mumbai.
‘After a while, the police barged into the crowd to divide and demoralise them. The students were lathi-charged. Many women students were assaulted. Students were brutally dragged and kicked. The women students were punched. Some students had their legs broken and other injuries.’
According to the students of JNU, this is a dangerous and diabolical move to make education from being a right for all to becoming a commercial product restricted to the rich and upper classes, thereby destroying not only the very essence of a central university, but also the original idea of JNU as a space where the poorest of the poor could get the chance to enjoy higher education and research.
After 16 days of protest against the manual (the protest is still on), the students, on November 11, protested outside the AICTE auditorium where the third Convocation of JNUwas scheduled. It was inaugurated by Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu. The Minister of MHRD, Ramesh Pokhriyal, was present.
Hundreds of students marched to the North Gate of JNU and demanded that the VC should meet them.
Ashank, a student from the Centre for Historical Studies (CHS), said, “There was heavy deployment of police personnel and the CRPF outside the various gates. JNUSU President Ayeshi Ghosh went inside the convocation hall to put forward the students’ demands to the MHRD minister. “The minister refused to give any concrete or written assurance.”
Akansha, a PhD scholar in JNU, said, “The students are outraged against the government’s attempts to privatise the entire education system in the country. The Draft Hostel Manual is a sign of a similar move. JNU embraces the students from the most marginalised sections of society through its deprivation points policy. The introduction of this manual is a direct attack on the Right to Education.”
The introduction of new curfew timings, dress codes for hostel inmates, changing of library timings, the massive hike in hostel fees, and the entry of police in the campus, are all attempts to damage the essential heart which beats in JNU, its inherited essence and soul, its progressive body and spirit.
Sarika Chaudhry, an M Phil student and former vice president, JNUSU, said, “The Hostel Manual was drafted on October 3 and a circular inviting the students’ suggestions was released. The meeting between the authorities and the JNUSU was expected to be held on October 18, but was deliberately postponed to 10:30 am on October 28, which was the day after Diwali. Since it was a question of survival in JNU, the students still came and demanded the JNUSU to be present in the meeting,” added Sarika.
The protesters recalled how the administration stated that they don’t recognise JNUSU and even attempted to lock the JNUSU office. The students were enraged by this authoritarian and unprecedented act and demanded a written notice to lock the elected JNUSU’s office, which the administration failed to provide.
Hardnews was informed that the meeting on October 28 was postponed to 3 pm. Within ten minutes, the meeting was reportedly concluded and the manual was passed without the consent of the students. The students tried to establish a dialogue with the administration but the authorities turned a blind eye to their plea. As a result, the students marched to the police station on November 4 and filed a ‘missing person’ report against the VC.
The students protesting outside the JNU gate on the convocation day cite some statements by the VC as a reason for trying to approach the MHRD minister. According to them, the VC stated that the fee hike has come as a consequence of the central government cutting funds on education. After a prolonged protest at the barricades manned by a huge police force outside the convocation venue, the JNUSU was called inside for a meeting. The JNUSU leaders were able to meet the MHRD minister but the VC was not present. Sarika said, “We were informed by an alumnus that the VC was present inside the convocation hall. So we decided to continue our protest until the VC comes to meet the students.”
Sumit, president of SFI-Delhi, said, “After a while, the police barged into the crowd to divide and demoralise them. The students were lathi-charged. Many women students were manhandled and assaulted by the police and the CRPF. Students were brutally dragged on the streets and kicked. The women students were punched and thrashed. Water cannons were also used on students to disperse them. Some students had their legs broken and other injuries.”
The spirit of the university which recently gave the world a Nobel laureate in economics with focus on elevating people who are poor, is under a sinister and ruthless clampdown by the BJP-led government. It has been a relentless attack on JNU by the VC and his bosses since 2016.
The spirit of the university which recently gave the world a Nobel laureate in economics with a focus on elevating people who are poor is under a sinister and ruthless clampdown by the BJP-led government. It has been a relentless attack on JNU by the VC and his bosses since 2016. The introduction of new curfew timings, dress codes for hostel inmates, changing of library and reading room timings, cutting down on the security personnel responsible for the safety of students, the massive hike in hostel fees, and the entry of police in the campus, are all attempts to block and damage the essential heart which beats in JNU, its inherited essence, and soul, its progressive body and spirit.
JNU has always walked in solidarity with the downtrodden in their struggles. The administration is continuing its attempt to bring the students to their knees and kill its progressive essence, but the students believe that the battle against the draconian hostel manual and the privatisation of education across the country has to be fought with all their collective strength, in the campus and outside. Students in other parts of the country are now standing up with JNU, as JNU has stood with them always in the past, be it HCU after the suicide by Rohith Vemula, FTII or Jadavpur University. They believe that JNU breathes through its students, its alumni, its faculty, its debating culture, its revolutionary spirit, its pluralist and secular culture of openness, brilliance and non-dogmatism, aligned with the marginalised masses in India and all over the world. And all of this can only be nurtured and nourished when education becomes a right for all and not a luxury for a few.