On November 11, thousands of students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) held a protest march against the massive hostel fee hike and other anti-student policies of the administration. The protesting students were marching to the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) auditorium where the convocation ceremony for the university’s outgoing students was taking place when they were brutally attacked by the police, in an attempt to stop them from reaching the auditorium. The students continued to protest in front of the auditorium—where the vice president of India, Venkaiah Naidu, was the chief guest—even as police continued their violent attempts to disperse them. The massive deployment of police and paramilitary forces brutally lathicharged and even resorted to the use of water cannons to disperse the students. Many students were injured in the police attack and some have also been detained.
In the evening, the students led their march back to the university and are continuing to protest there. The protest, which has been ongoing since the past 15 days, is against several decisions taken by the administration, including a hike in room rent from Rs 10 to Rs 300 for single rooms and from Rs 20 to Rs 600 for double rooms in hostels. The one-time refundable mess security deposit has also been hiked from Rs 5,500 to Rs 12,000.
With the slogan of ‘No Convocation without Affordable Education’, the protesting students demanded that the administration withdraw the draft hostel manual, which imposes a 1000% fee hike. The manual also includes several other regressive measures, like the imposition of dress codes and curfew timings.
Also read: Hundreds of JNU Students Protest Fee Hike, Dress Code
Talking to NewsClick, Pooja Singh, an MPhil student from the university, said that, firstly, the library funds were slashed by 80%, which was followed by a 90% reduction in seats. “And now the fee hike! What does this mean? And if you are increasing the fees, then even our fellowship amount should increase. But that is not the case,” she added.
Lokendra, another student, who is pursuing a PhD from the university, claimed that he is the first person from his village who has been able to secure admission in the university. He told NewsClick that it was possible for him to pursue higher education at the premier institute only because of the affordable fees. “But now, I do not think that I will be able to finish my education. My family does not own any land, and is struggling to make ends meet. They will not be able to give so much money for my fees,” he said, adding that this move by the administration will force many students like him to quit.
Akhilesh Yadav, president of Samajwadi Party, also tweeted criticising the police attack on the protesting students. He said, “Use of force against the students who have been protesting peacefully against the fee hike and the restrictions is condemnable. Increasing the fees to about threefold at once is an injustice meted out to the students’ future. Those who have children would know how expensive their education can be.”
The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) released a statement condemning the brutal police attack on the protesting students. The statement read, “The students of JNU are in a struggle for more than two weeks against a draconian hostel manual brought out by the University administration. The authoritarian VC and the administration have not even been ready for any democratic dialogue with the elected JNUSU all these days. Today the protesters marched to the venue of convocation demanding an immediate withdrawal of the anti-student hostel mannual and asking the VC to meet the student community. Instead of engaging with the students, the administration have sought to oppress them by using brutal force.”
Also watch: JNU Students Say No to Fee Hike
The statement added, “JNU has been a model of public education where the students from deprived backgrounds could access higher education due to the low fee structure and subsidised food in hostels. The current administration, who are acting as a mere agents who carry the political agenda of NDA government, have unleashed different projects to overturn this structure. Introducing self-financing courses was one of the initial such steps. And now with making hostel a place where students of economically deprived sections cannot afford to be residence will further intensify the exclusionary model.”
It pointed out that all students of the university, the elected representatives of the hostels, and a majority of the faculty have been vocal about their complete disagreements over the new amendments. The administration, however, continues to refuse to hold a dialogue with the protesting students and the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU). The statement added, “We demand the JNU administration to immediately withdraw the amendments to the hostel manual and initiate a dialogue with the protesters.”
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) also tweeted condemning the brutal attack on the JNU students who are fighting for affordable education and demanded that the demands of the students be met immediately.
The JNU Teachers’ Association organised a teachers’ assembly on November 11, which also condemned the brutal police action against the peacefully protesting students, that left several students injured. The statement released by JNUTA demanded that “the JNU Vice Chancellor, at whose behest this action was undertaken should step down from his position. The police action was clearly only to defend the obstinate refusal of the Vice Chancellor to engage in any dialogue with students on their concern”. The teachers have extended their “solidarity to the students who are under assault from the administration in more ways than one” and “resolved to intensify their struggle against the attacks on public education”.