The muggy haze and the burnt smell of Delhi’s toxic air made a heady mix in Jawaharlal Nehru University on Monday (November 4). Slogans rented the air with students cutting across party lines resorting to peaceful protests against the administration’s move to hike annual fees and curb student’s movement.
However, their democratic protest was met by a posse of CRPF troopers and a contingent of Delhi Police.
Students and teachers of the campus were stunned to see a group of 80 members of the para-military forces in campus. The CRPF, which works under Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, usually maintains law and order in terror and Maoist-infested hotspots.
Several student groups in the campus including the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student’s wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which had initially joined the protest, withdrew after the JNU Students Union (JNUSU) decided the march to the Vasant Kunj police station to file a “missing report” of university vice chancellor Jagadesh Kumar.
The present crisis in JNU began about a week ago when the university proposed a fee hike and released the draft hostel manual. The proposed hike in the hostel fee security deposit will have students paying ₹12,000 against the ₹5,500 they used to pay earlier. Mess bills are also expected to rise steeply.
Students were also stunned that dhabas (food outlets), the nerve centre of debates and discussions, in the campus will be shut by 10pm and the iconic nine-storey library would cease to function 24 hours. The library is the only place for reference and lending for students who come from across the country and the world.
The University, known for its free movement for students across hostels, was shocked that the new rules required them to show their identity cards whenever asked by security guards. Students carrying their ID cards is unheard of in the campus, which is spread across 1,019.38 acres.
The JNUSU has been on strike against the new hostel manual approved by the Inter Hostel Management (IHA) committee, alleging it has provisions for curfew timings, dress code and hostel fee hike.
The administration’s move to hike fees and curb the movement has drawn sharp reactions from former JNUSU presidents and members of the university’s teaching community.
“Little Hitlers in the academia are trying to suppress democratic protest and impose a fee hike. All sections have access to JNU. What the administration and the government wants is to make it into an institution only for the elite only,” says Vijoo Krishnan, former JNUSU president, currently joint secretary of All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS).
The confrontation took a new turn with JNUSU vice-president Saket Moon claiming that CRPF personnel had been deployed on the campus to put atleast 8,500 students behind bars.
Reacting to the development, Prof DK Lobiyal, JNUTA president said, “Every educational institution applies for Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) loans and JNU has also applied for one. Like all loans, it’s given to institutions based on its repaying capacity. The university administration wants to collect this funds from students. The management has decided to increase the annual hostel fees deposit from ₹5,000 to ₹12,000 in one go.”
“The university administration has decided to resolve issues through discussions, which has been part of JNU’s culture. There has to be meeting between hostel presidents, cultural groups, political parties in campus. This dialogue has died. The whole mechanism has died in the past 5 years. There used to be dialogue between JNUTA, JNUSU and other bodies. This has led to a total dictatorial setup. Discussion and debates, which have been the strength of JNU has been totally undermined,” he said.
Nobel Prize winner in economics for 2019, Abhijit Banerjee, a JNU alumni, said it was it time in the campus which helped him know about Indian politics. “JNU politicised me, but not in a sense that I became a member of the JNU Students’ Union or any politics of the institution. But it made me realise how important politics is,” he said.
Earlier on Friday, vice-chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar had tweeted, “Rumours are being spread by some motivated students about new hostel manual recently approved by Inter Hall Administration (IHA) committee.” Kumar also said the rules on curfew timing and appropriate dress code were present in the old manual as well.
Rumours are being spread by some motivated students about new hostel manual recently approved by Inter Hall Administration (IHA) committee. JNU administration appeals to student community not to be misled by those who are trying to derail the normal functioning of the University. pic.twitter.com/XEH1ZeTbun
— Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar (@mamidala90) November 1, 2019
The current protest is by students across political ideologies as it pinches everyone’s pocket. The stir has been continuing for the past one week and the administration has been only giving threats. The administration is not even willing to come for talks. There is a ban on all democratic forms of protest.
Even when teachers protested, they were threatened. Teachers have been issued show cause notices, their leaves haven’t been sanctioned and the attempt is to stifle voices. JNU has never seen any violence in the campus till date. It is one of the most peaceful campuses in the country. They are silencing voices, which they don’t want to hear, said many students.
Reacting to the presence of CRPF personnel in the campus, assistant professor Avinash Kumar, Centre for informal sector and labour studies, School of Social Sciences said, “Bringing the CRPF into the campus is the most draconian idea one can think of. The students are only demanding their legitimate right. Parents of 40% of the students in JNU have an annual income of less than ₹12,000.”
“The administration has increased the fees even without consulting the students adding to this they have also put forth news rules to curb students’ freedom in campus. Why isn’t the vice-chancellor or registrar or proctor speaking to the students? Why aren’t they explaining to the students the reasons behind the fee hike? What is the economics of raising the fees from ₹5,000 to ₹12,000? The administration wants ESI and other emoluments paid to the administrative staff to be paid by the students. The government wants to get rid of all responsibilities. Why should students bear the brunt? Has the state withdrawn from welfarism? The whole idea behind this is to change the character of the university.”
JNU has been in the news for the last few years and the popular perception peddled in media now is that students of the campus indulge in anti-national activities. Refuting this Kumar says, “JNU is the only university which reaches out to different state capitals to hold tests and get students. Technically, JNU is a central university, but the JNU statute calls itself a national university. This is the only campus where there are more female students than male students. There are more students here from the deprived and economically weaker sections than the middle class or the upper middle class. This is a campus which has evolved through many progressive experiments.”
The first step to change the character of the university in this direction was taken in 2017, when student intake was cut drastically. JNU has always been a very small university, primarily dedicated to research. Its student intake underwent a 54% increase by 2012. In March 2017, the VC unilaterally cut the intake to JNU’s research programme by 83%, citing that the supervisor-student ratio had been exceeded as prescribed by the UGC in 2016.
“The current administration’s idea is to make the university exclusive, which only a few can afford, their idea is to destroy this great institution. JNU will not be JNU, if its students aren’t here,” says Prof DK Lobiyal.