Since March 19, 11 students from Jawaharlal Nehru University started an indefinite hunger strike, along with numerous other students staging relay hunger strike, demanding that the prospectus that was released on March 15 be revoked immediately, and JNU VC M Jagadeesh Kumar be removed. In the recent past, the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) and JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) have protested time and again against the dictatorial practices of the Vice Chancellor.
Expressing solidarity with the students, JNUTA has also called for a one-day strike on March 20. They said in a statement, “The JNUTA is deeply dismayed by the insensitive attitude of the JNU administration towards the teachers and students of this university. We are appalled at the toxic combination of authoritarianism, lawlessness and antipathy to social justice that propels the current JNU administration, such that it is acting against the very mandate of the JNU Act.”
The statement added, “The JNU Act mandates that the University Administration must ensure and protect voices and spaces of dissent, free expression and critical thinking. But time and again, the JNU administration under the current Vice Chancellor has proven that its only agenda is to destroy teaching and learning in JNU which is based on the culture of equality, openness, dialogue, and democracy.”
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The JNUSU has demanded that the Visitor of the university, President Ram Nath Kovind immediately intervene in the matter and consider the issues raised by the students, which are:
1. The decision to impose CBT Online Examination to all courses, including MPhil and PhD, disregarding the opinions of the teachers and students who pointed to the problems of accessibility and pedagogical limits in having such an admission process.
2. The decision to delink the integrated MPhil-PhD program without any deliberation or discussion in the Academic Council meeting, involving the majority views of teachers and student.
3. The decision to do away with BA 2nd Year admission, illegally overruling the decision of the Board of Studies, School of Languages, Literature and Cultural Studies.
4. Repeated violation of reservations over the last two years, following the adoption of the UGC Gazette, 2016 and implementation of EWS quota, which has been opposed by the JNUSU for its doubtful constitutionality and legality.
5. The exorbitant fees being charged to the incoming students in the MBA program, amounting to Rs 12,00,000 and Engineering courses who are being charged Rs 70,000 per semester; without even having a building or sufficient number of faculty for either of these schools.
6. Demand for the implementation of Deprivation points, which has been the most progressive element of the JNU admission policy making possible the right to accessibility of students of marginalised communities to enter the university, has not been implemented in MPhil-PhD and the newly introduced courses.
7. The illegal manner in which the elected JNUSU was deliberately kept out of successive Academic Council meetings, where such anti-student decisions were imposed. JNUSU has already filed a writ petition against this and while the judgement is awaited, the Honourable HC has admonished the JNU administration for not letting the JNUSU function and participate in various meetings.
Talking to Newsclick, Aishe Ghosh, the convenor for School of International Studies and also one of the students sitting on the hunger strike, said, “The first prospectus was released on March 13. It stated that the rates for applying to various coursed in the university had been hiked by almost 300 percent. After massive protests from the JNUSU and students of the university, they were forced to revoke the price hike, and released the new prospectus on March 15, but this new prospectus has a lot of problems. The MCQ and computer-based entrance system will majorly affect the School of Social Sciences, as the research-based questions require appropriate analysis.”
She added, “There are places where the students don’t use computers till 12th, and they don’t have access to the internet or computers. The computer-based system will exclude students from the poorer sections of the country from even applying to JNU. Students from marginalised backgrounds are systematically being pushed out from this university by the VC.”
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Sarika Chaudhary, the Vice President of JNUSU, who is also sitting on the hunger strike, told Newsclick, “We are protesting against three years of continuous attacks on JNU by the VC and the attacks on higher education by the Modi government. Being a public funded institution, JNU should be accessible to all students from all social and economic backgrounds. Education should be a right for everyone, not a commodity.”
Talking to Newsclick, Aejaz Ahmed Rather, General Secretary of JNUSU, said, “We are demanding that the draconian prospectus released by the VC be taken back immediately. This is a consolidated movement against the anti-student policies of the VC.”
Ghosh said, “For changes to be made in the admission policies, there is a standing committee that has to be consulted. This is the first time that the VC has made an admission committee of his own, which consists of professors who have been accused of plagiarism. This is an unprecedented incident, where instead of consulting the standing committee for admission, the VC is consulting his own personal committee.”