New Delhi: Over 5,000 students, distressed by the crackdown on higher education by the Narendra Modi government, marched from Ramlila Ground to Parliament Street in Delhi, pledging to give a final blow to the BJP government ahead of the 2019 elections.
“We want the issue of jobs to be on the electoral agenda, there is no other way for our voices to be heard.” said Nivedita, a student who had travelled from Uttarakhand to be a part of the march in Delhi on Monday and Tuesday. The students, united under the banner 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), have joined the protest march, with the slogan “Save Education, Save Democracy, Save Nation”.
Vicky Mahesari from Punjab said, "Time and again the youth are forced to come out on the streets because this government has failed on every front to effectively serve the youth. We are leading a revolution on the ground. Our main demands include an Act to guarantee employment and crackdown on privatisation of universities."
The students came from Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Tripura and many more.
In the past four years, Indian education has suffered due to the ‘flawed’ policies of the Modi government, implemented in crude ways by the university administrations from the issues of sexual harassment on campus, to that of the targeted witch hunt of minority and dalit students, said many students.
Speaking to NewsClick, Rubhagran, a student from Periyar University, said, “Students are being forced to drop out of colleges because of the enormous fee hike, I had to pay Rs 35 per paper for my exams. After the hike, I have to pay Rs 85. Many like me cannot afford to go to the university anymore which was the only avenue of change of fortunes for people like me.”
Harsha a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, said, “My parents were first generation learners, when I came to campus I assumed things would have changed, but in the present circumstances acquiring education for people who come from backgrounds like mine is becoming exceedingly difficult.”
A major concern for students across India has been the Modi government’s plan to privatise education in the name of development, the proposed HEFA fund, fee hikes and autonomous status to universities being some of the steps in this direction have caused enormous insecurity among young aspirants.
Nitheesh Narayanan, Central Executive Committee member of SFI, said, “The attacks on education need to be understood as three-fold -- communalisation, commercialisation and centralisation.”
Mayukh Biswas, all India General Secretary of SFI, added, “Modi has declared war against its own people, more importantly, against students. The government is doling out packages to Jio University but not the education budget for public-funded varsities.”
The Modi government had come to power in 2014 on a major poll promise of giving out two crore jobs to the youth every year, in reality the government has not been successful in fulfilling even 5 % of this promise, a cause of major distrust amongst students.
Students presented their eight-point charter of demands, including a free Common Education System for all from KG to PG, 10% of budget allocation for education, implementation of reservation, safety and security of women.
Speaking to NewsClick, Shreya from DSO, said, “As far as the question of gender justice is concerned, the Modi government has failed on every front. They have dismantled committees and institutions that were put in place to make education safe and accessible for women, from the dismantling of GSCASH to the unfair hostel curfews and widespread sexual harassment, we are demanding an end to all of this.”
Student leaders and activists also condemned the targeting of Kashmiri students following the Pulwama attacks. Biswas said, “It is the mentality of hate mongering of the government that is problematic, we must stay united in this time to take on the hate mongering.”
Meanwhile, eminent personalities including Romila Thapar, TM Krishna, Mridula Garg, Keki Daruwalla, Githa Hariharan among others issued a statement condemning the Modi government for “eroding institutions of learning and research by starving them of funds, subverting reason and crushing dissent. Students and teachers are constantly being hounded with charges of being “anti-national” and “seditious”.
The protesting students have the following demands--
-- A nationwide fully state-funded and free Common Education System from KG to PG.
-- Use of at least 6% of the GDP and 10% of the central budget on education.
-- The Bhagat Singh National Employment Guarantee Act (BNEGA) to ensure guaranteed employment to all.
-- A halt to the communalisation of education.
-- Implementation of existing reservations and social justice in government and private institutions.
-- Release of all pending scholarships and more fellowships for research scholars from marginalised sections.
--Protection of the federal character of education.