Students of the Rajah Muthiah Medical College (RMMC) in Cuddalore district, Tamil Nadu, have been protesting for more than 50 days against the exorbitant tuition fees imposed by the administration.
In a bid to suppress the protest, the university administration shut down the college last week and tried to forcefully evict students from hostels citing “adverse and unfavourable circumstances in the premises”. Since then, students have been suffering without proper food, water, sanitation and electricity facilities.
However, the protesting students have decided to not fall prey to the administration's authoritarian moves. On a day-to-day basis they are resisting regular attacks and are continuing the protest. The medical students have also taken to cooking their own food and taking classes at the site of protest.
‘WORSE THAN PRIVATE COLLEGES’
Affiliated to the Annamalai University and located in Cuddalore district, RMMC was completely taken over by the Tamil Nadu government in 2013. But, the University continues to charge fees higher than private medical colleges.
Despite being a state government college under the Ministry of Higher Education, the fee of some of the courses are 30 times that of other Tamil Nadu government medical colleges and three times the fee of private self-financing medical colleges.
Comparative fee structure for 2020-21 (as release by RMMC students)
The stipend for MD (Doctor of Medicine) students is Rs. 25,000, which is Rs 10,000 less than what is provided in other government medical colleges.
RMMC students feel that they neither have the benefit of studying in a government college, nor some of the privileges experienced by private college students. As a state run university, RMMC undergraduate students sign a bond of compulsory government service for two years after their course. If they are found severing the bond, they will have to pay Rs. 40 lakh to the state. Similarly, postgraduate students compulsorily have to enrol in Tamil Nadu government service. Yet, they do not have the subsidies of other government college students.
Ashish, a final year MD student of RMMC, told NewsClick, “In every aspect, our college is a government institution, we sign compulsory government service bonds and we work in the out-patient department (OPD), but with fees it is worse than self-aided colleges. A private college MD student pays Rs. 3.5 lakh, but I have to pay Rs 9.6 lakh per year without the freedom to choose what I will do after my course. How is this fair?”
He also asked, “Another important question, where did the Rs. 2,075 crore go?” This is the sum allocated to the university since 2013. Students say that the funds have not been appropriately used for infrastructural developments in their institute.
Pooja, an MS student at RMMC, told NewsClick “We are not doing this protest just for us. If the funds allotted to our college are used efficiently, then it would provide better medical facilities and be very useful for the hundreds of villages in Cuddalore district.”
After holding several forms of creative protests, to grab the attention of the university administration and the state government, students decided to intensify the protests last week. Since December 9, for the first six weeks, students ensured no hindrance was caused to the medical facilities provided by the university. But, on the 42nd day of the protest, on January 20, after a week’s notice to the authorities, students began boycotting Out Patient Department (OPD) services.
The very next morning, on January 21, the administration released a circular stating “the Medical and Dental Colleges are CLOSED INDEFINITELY for both Undergraduate and Postgraduate Students with immediate effect, until further orders.”
The indefinite closure of the college and hostels has hindered access to basic facilities like food, water, electric supply and sanitation. Women students were seen requesting faculty members to use toilets.
For all essential needs, students are pushed to hold protests. Even to bring food supplies and water from outside the campus, a protest was staged at the gate on January 22. Students were also seen holding a protest with buckets demanding water. Another agitation was held by them inside the hostel at night with torch lights demanding the supply of electricity.
Only after students wrote a letter to the Human Right Commission on January 22, proper access to sanitation, water and electricity resumed on campus. Though students have paid hostel fees of Rs. 80,000, which includes the mess fee, the mess still remains suspended.
It was also reported that some students fell ill and fainted out of hunger, thirst and exhaustion on the site of protest, and were provided first aid by fellow students.
The administration has also attempted to approach the parents of the students to coerce them into calling off the protest. Priya said, “Our families are supportive of our protests. They understand its importance. They are of course scared about our well being. But, they are even asking us when they can come join in solidarity.” She also mentioned that parents are financially supporting the protest.
Angered by the insensitive, abrupt and indefinite shutting of the college, the students of RMMC wrote a letter to the Prime Minister of India on January 25. The medical students are asking for intervention from the Central government to meet their demands.
Notably, the ongoing protest is not the first against the university’s hefty fees. In 2017, a protest movement was led by students demanding revision of fees for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. However, the administration had then too denied any talks with the protesting students.
Also read: Students of Raja Muthiah Medical College in Tamil Nadu on Strike Demanding Govt Takeover