“Never have we been in a situation as bad as right now,” Nandita Narain, former president of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA), told Newsclick on the second day of the #ChalloDilli march. More than 15,000 teachers from universities and schools across the country marched from Mandi House to Parliament in Delhi on 19 February.
Indian universities are witnessing an attack on their fundamental structure in an unprecedented manner, with the Modi government unleashing a series of policy changes and ‘reforms’ in the education sector.
Speaking to Newsclick, Tapti Mukhopadhyay, a professor from West Bengal, said, “The education system has been a soft target of the government since the advent of neoliberal policies in 1993-94. But the current regime is doing all it can to shake the building blocks of higher education in India — through its policies such as the Higher Education Commission of India Bill 2018, the higher education financing agency, the roster system and the denial of basic rights to teachers.”
Narain said, “The Modi government has dismantled the education system in India. Ordinary students cannot afford to go to college. This is what our fight is all about.”
The teachers representing primary schools and universities travelled great distances from states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Tripura, Assam, Punjab, and Jammu & Kashmir, among others.
Read more: #YouthagainstModi declare ‘Halla Bol’ on Modi government, demand halt to privatisation
The teachers were chanting slogans such as — “Reservation khaa gaye, achche din kahaan gaye, pensions kha gaye, achche din kahaan gaye?” (The government sabotaged reservations and pensions, where are the ‘good days’ that the BJP had promised?”)
Dilip Kumar Chaudhary, a schoolteacher from Uttar Pradesh, said, “I have spent all these years until the age of 60-62 in serving the students and the society. And yet I had to come to Delhi and protest like this, asking for something as basic as pension benefits. The teachers have been demanding that the old pension scheme be restored. We have also been demanding that the exclusionary and casteist 13-point roster system be rolled back.”
Dr Prakash from Kerala said, “The 13-point roster system drastically reduces the number of posts under the reserved categories by making sure these become the only seats where the rotation system will not take place. Thus, it is a major blow to applicants from minority communities and specifically those coming from the Scheduled Castes and the Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
Sanchita Reya, a teacher from Tripura said, “In our state, we are witnessing coordinated efforts to ensure our universities are weakened and that we are compelled to take loans from private players, similarly the government’s plan to grant universities an autonomous state would only lead to our further isolation.”
Talking about the attacks on critical thinking, professors from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), where some students are currently dealing with sedition charges, told Newsclick, “The atmosphere of higher education in this country is under attack, our students are currently sitting on a dharna to prove the fact that they are not guilty, we are supporting their efforts and also asserting that the vicious attempts to communalise higher education will not be accepted by us.”
The march to save education has had support pouring in from all quarters. Marching alongside the protesting teachers and students, Brinda Karat, Politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said, “We are in complete support of the efforts put in by the teachers, to lead this symbolic march, at a time when the government is hell-bent on privatising, commercialising and communalising education. A stronger fightback is the need of the hour.”
Read more: #StudentsChaloDilli: Thousands of Students Throng the Capital, Lambast Modi Government
On 18 February, as part of the protest against the attacks on higher education, over 5,000 students had marched from Ramlila Ground to Parliament Street in Delhi, pledging to give a final blow to the BJP government ahead of the 2019 elections.
The students — united under the banners of Students’ Federation of India (SFI), All India Democratic Students’ Organisation (AIDSO), Progressive Students’ Union (PSU), All India Students Bloc (AISB), and All India Students Federation (AISF) — joined the protest march with the slogan of “Save Education, Save Democracy, Save Nation”.