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By Our Bureau Chief Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: “Make education affordable to all”, a simple enough demand by the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi. But not so simple, when the government is addressed is the Narendra Modi government, known to quash dissent whether in JNU or in Kashmir with nothing short of extreme force. While the administration is using threats and coercive methods to get the students to return to classes, the students continue to march and protest, as the issue of fee hike has now evolved into a movement to save quality, publicly funded education in central universities, throughout the country.
It must be stated here that if the hike goes through, 43 % of the students in JNU, belonging to the marginalized communities, would be at risk of dropping out of their courses, 55 % of whom would be females, because of their inability to cope up with the fee hike. A model which would spread like fire to other universities as well, jeopardizing the education opportunities of a huge chunk of society, relying on this opportunity to break free of centuries of repression.
This government had to retreat once from the campus in 2016, when the entire hate campaign unleashed by them, with the help of the media to paint JNU as a bedrock of anti-national activities, faced national and international ridicule. Since then several attempts have been made to keep JNU in check, through the government-appointed vice-chancellor M.Jagadesh, who prefers to tweet his communications, rather than engage with the students directly.
JNU along with Delhi University, figures in the top 500 social sciences universities of the world, has been consistently getting the president’s medal for best university and has been bagging the NAAC A++ ranking for years. One would think that the government of the day would nurture such an eminent university, which has produced noble laureates like Abhijeet Bhattacharya. Instead what is being witnessed is forceful assaults in JNU, but in other centralized universities as well.
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“This government has plans to rule for several years and they know that universities like JNU, which has questioned every government of the day, on issues like Emergency, the 1984 Sikh genocide, and Nirbhaya rape incident, if not silenced soon, would be a thorn on their side,” said Dr Kanhaiya Kumar, who recently got his doctorate degree from JNU.
The government was so smart, that they first enrolled the media, to stamp a few students of JNU as anti-nationals, with morphed videos of them shouting anti-
national slogans, but never identifying the real culprits. Charging students like Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid with sedition to ‘scare’ turned them into unlikely heroes overnight instead. “Soon there was a media campaign against those who expressed support for JNU and declaring them as anti-nationals as well. Before we knew it, the entire country was so deeply polarized between “nationals” who hailed the saffron brigade’s idea of Hindutva and “anti-nationals”, who empathized with the student’s plight”, he said.
Public funding in education helps the lower middle and lower classes get an education and helps them break out of their limitations. “A section of the media is hell-bent on changing the narrative, turning the public against the university students by painting them as parasites, smoking and drinking away with their taxpayer money and studying decrepit subjects, which decreases their employability. This, when
we too pay taxes which goes up substantially once we take up top positions in society”, said the enraged protestors.
Subsidies for farmers are questioned but highly subsidized meals continue to be served in parliament. None question allotment of free bungalows to super-rich legislato
rs and parliamentarians also paid handsomely, are assured of pensions, besides generous allowances and subsidies, Z plus security, all without any consultations with tax payer’s whatsoever, where they would like their taxes directed! This while students fight to keep their cramped and unhygienic hostels, their freedom to study in the libraries whenever, “because all we want is a peaceful atmosphere to study,” say protestors, most of whom are first graduates and post graduate’s in their families.
Like everything in the country today, views about JNU are extremely polarized with one section insisting that their taxes cannot be wasted on students wanting to do their Ph.D.’s in South Africans studies, while the liberals insist that their taxes be spent on higher education, rather than political excesses, including statues and temples.
“Why should quality higher education in the country be commoditized and unaffordable? Why is there such a rush to create an unequal society? Why is there a cost-recovery model for ed
ucation? Higher education cannot be viewed as a profit model”, asks actress Swara Bhaskar, an alumnus of JNU, who’s continued support
JNU nurtures the educational dreams of the marginalized, who would not be able to afford an education anywhere else. The incessant attack by the government on JNU has spewed memes about the prime minister’s educational qualifications and his MA degree, which the Delhi University is fighting in courts to “hide”, not reveal, for obvious reasons! A government that barely has a handful of educated ministers and which does not include the prime minister or the home minister, in its cabinet, cannot be expected to understand the importance of higher education, especially the kind which will question them.for JNU, in the last five years has earned her the wrath of trolls, supporting the present political dispensation.
JNU recognizes affordable education as a right and not as a privilege. Desperate students are insisting that they be killed, rather than denying them education, which would keep an entire section of the marginalized away from progress.In one of those rare occasions, members of the ruling party’s student wing, the Akhil Bhartiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP), which has been aggressively nurtured by its parent body to end leftism in JNU, too have joined the protests because the hike is affecting them as well.
Meanwhile, excessive hate perpetrated by media houses against JNUites, and on social media, are putting their lives at risk.
Shashi Bhushan, a bright, talented, blind student, who is winning hearts through his spirited protests through songs as well, was poked with sticks and punched so much that he had to be admitted to the trauma center, prompting his father Anil Pandey, a member of the ruling party, the BJP to prompt that students are not anti-nationals , but poor students from your and our families.
Shashi Bhushan at a press conference asked why is it that the students are the ones being questioned and not the administration or the government. And how are they accused of violent protests when they marched unarmed, peacefully shouting slogan’s. Why were students being asked why they are resorting to anti-national slogans, when the real anti-nationals are the ones who are attacking public education, Are we brought here to be groomed as terrorists, finally requesting the media to show the truth because the world outside respects them more than the students.
He reminded that after one such student protest, even Indira Gandhi had to apologize. This time however Modi government would lose power, he said.
Teachers too joined in the protests to express concern for the collapsing structure of the education system in the country. “Poor students cannot study, in the present circumstances and we are as sensitive to the issue as much as the students are”, said one of the marching professors.
This year, 12 lakh students applied and only 2000 students made it through the All India entrance exams, making it one of the most difficult exams to clear.
“This is the moment in our history where millions of young people are entering higher education. They come with dreams, talent and hard work but they don’t have money. Does someone with dreams but no money have no right to education?”, asks Yogendra Yadav, of the Swaraj Party.
For a prime minister who constantly claims that he comes from a very modest background, his government has not increased the budget allocation for education which stayed at 3 % in the last five years, down from 6 % in the previous years. However unlike in the past, there were several underspending even in this incredibly low allocation, with no new schools, colleges or universities built. Grants are however being cut and scholarships slashed or withdrawn, squeezing the lungs of the already gasping for the breath education system in the country.
While channels like Zee TV are deliberately lying that students don’t want to pay just Rs 300 for their rooms, in a place like Delhi, the truth is that several existing charges have now doubled, taking the cost’s per academic year from Rs 27,000-32,000 to Rs 60,000 to Rs 66,000. It was also being made out that JNU is the cheapest university when it is on par with other central universities. But if this hike goes through, JNU will become the most expensive university in the country, taking it out of the reach of 43 % of the students, who will have to drop out with immediate effect.
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The JNU administration seems to have been pushed to increase fees after the United Grants Commission, snitched Rs 641 lakhs from its kitty because the VC did not apply for it on time. JNU has turned into a war zone, since M. Jagadeesh became the vice-chancellor of this university in 2015, turning JNU into a battleground for left and right ideologies. Before the entry of this chancellor, the worst that the students had to battle was bed bugs in the rooms, falling apart ceilings, messy smelly bathrooms, dirty water, unhygienic food. After his appointment, however, they ended up fighting to keep their very right to study, besides dwindling scholarships, reduced library hours, their clothes and in some cases for their lives as well.
“The anger that the center exhibits at these universities, it wouldn’t be a surprise, if they simply raise them to the ground. However, whatever little exists by way of democracy prevents them from doing so, says Yogendra Yadav.
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Despite reduced funds, the government because of the prevailing insecurities, prefers to keep the university on the boil and spend Rs 17 crore on its security, rather than work to return peace to the campus in JNU, and spend the money on student’s welfare instead.
JNU is not the only university facing a crisis. Other universities like Banaras Hindu University, Jadavpur University , Kolkatta, Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, Central University in Hyderabad, Punjab University, Garhwal University in Srinagar, Aligarh Muslim University in Allahabad, Jamia and Delhi University are all on a burn, which is making the Modi government go hard at JNU to quell the flames there, before it spreads through the country and swallows the government.
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Besides IIT’s all of whom have experienced about 300% hike in fees and are now on a boil, students of Uttarakhand ayurvedic college have been protesting, against a steep hike in their fees for days. Despite the high court reversing the fee hike, asking the fees to be returned, the management has not bothered about it for months, while the government continues to ignore the crisis. It is however not averse to using the police force to ensure the protests do not get out of hand.
Most of the outside world wonder why these students protest?
The truth of the matter is that unless students protest, the outside world would never come to know what is going on inside the universities, how they are being reduced to trash, according to Magsaysay award-winning journalist Ravish Kumar, who had done a series on how systematically central universities are being rapidly reduced to ruin, just like in states like UP and Bihar.
Narendra Modi has been claiming that he has been a tea seller, and “rose” to the position of prime minister but has since then adopted life king size. Despite a tanking economy, there have been no attempts to scale down government spending as Imran Khan did in Pakistan, as soon as he came to power. He appealed to people to give up their subsidies on gas cylinders, which people gave up willingly for the welfare of the country, besides paying up revised taxes for “nation-building”. But no attempts were made to cut down some of his own privileges or that of his ministers.
There was hope that as a prime minister who was poor once, his focus would be to make education and health affordable for the poor, if not free, the way the Arvind Kejriwal government has done in Delhi. However, what we are witnessing instead is a total ruin of the public health and education sector.
The question asked set’s the narrative and the question should not be why fees in JNU are the cheapest, but why fees in other universities are so high, insist the protestors, who are determined to make the administration bend to its very logical and necessary demands.
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