JNU fee hike stir recalls ghosts of 2016 sedition episode

Published : Nov 18, 2019 10:03 am | By: anjali chhabra

JNU fee hike stir recalls ghosts of 2016 sedition episode

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JNU students are once again on collision course against the university administration and the Central government. This time the impasse is over a hike in fee that is being seen by students as detrimental for poor students.


The elite Jawaharlal Nehru Univesity (JNU), whose alumni include the likes of Nirmala Sitharaman and S Jaishankar, is in the throes of turmoil over an attempt by the authorities to hike fee, impose a dress code and curfew timings. The move has blown into a controversy with JNUSU holding protests and calling the proposed changes "regressive dystopia that the admin wants JNU to become".

With media glare on the violent protests – that have been continuing for three weeks – the JNU administration hastily rolled back, partially, the fee hike. The room rent which was raised to Rs 600 from Rs 20 for single occupancy will now be Rs 200. Similarly, for double occupancy the rent was hiked from Rs 10 to Rs 300. The amount will now be Rs 100.

The agitation started on October 4 when the university uploaded a draft hostel manual seeking feedback and the final decision on roll back was taken on November 13.

While one side is backing a hike in the fee and the other is opposing the additional burden on the poor students, there is undoubtedly sound logic behind both the arguments. However, an elite university should not dither from generating funds for maintaining its highs standards. For helping poor students, there could be two key possible solutions. One, allow poor students, who face problem paying the raised fee, to work a certain number of hours every week and earn some money to pay the fee – in Canada students can work up to 20 hours a week. Second, the HRD ministry can arrange a link-up between poor students and their respective Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha MP to get some educational grant from the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS). The use of MPLAD funds for financing poor students’ education in UGC-approved, select top universities may require the Central government to amend the law which should not be a problem.

The elite university, known as the cradle of thinkers and future leaders, has hit the headlines for wrong reasons once again after inviting criticism for alleged anti-national sloganeering. Former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, and a few others were charged with sedition in 2016 over alleged anti-India slogans raised at an event on Afzal Guru, the man hanged for the Parliament attack.

The current crisis in the university has grown serious due to alleged lack of communication between the two sides. The protesting students claimed that Vice Chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar has turned down repeated requests for a meeting and discussion on the fee hike and other issues, while the administration has alleged that the students don't want to have a dialogue.

"The fee hike will affect an overwhelming number of students. It denies those from the deprived sections to avail education if they cannot pay. It crushes the dream of equality irrespective of ability to afford," said in a statement from the Left-dominated JNU Students Union.

One of the key demands raised by the students is the withdrawal of the draft hostel manual, in which service charges of Rs 1,700 were introduced and the one-time mess security fee, which is refundable, was hiked from Rs 5,500 to Rs 12,000.

Even after the JNU administration hurriedly reworked its fee hike plan, the students express unhapiness and called them "cosmetic". "JNU Executive Committee announces major rollback in the hostel fee and other stipulations. Also proposes a scheme for economic assistance to the EWS students. Time to get back to classes," HRD Secretary R Subrahmanyam tweeted.

The students had earlier staged a protest outside AICTE, the venue for the convocation. As the protests escalated, Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' was stuck inside for over six hours and forced to cancel two scheduled events.

JNU students taking to streets and mobbing social media posts in solidarity with their cause of a fee rollback have made screaming headlines and action-packed visuals on new channels over the past three weeks, reviving the age-old debate over generation of funds for quality education without denying access to the poor.

While confrontations between JNUSU and the administration are not new, the current flare up over thorny issues like fee hike, dress code and curfew timings has already started throwing up flashback of the infamous sedition episode of 2016 on the campus in which an FIR was filed against students, including the then president Kanhaiya Kumar.

At the root of the current flare-up, it seems, is the simmering discontent among students about the V-C allegedly playing into the hands of the BJP-led Central government to muzzle the student movement – a charge denied by both the V-C and the government.

The on-going impasse on the campus has also seen aggressive use of paint and banners to raise the students' voice – something which is intrinsic to protests at the high-profile university. However, the university administration is trying hard to limit this medium of protest by citing the Delhi Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 2007. Just like in 2016, a FIR has also been filed by the JNU administration during the current student protest and about a dozen students have been booked. The university's complaint this time round followed detection of objectionable slogans, mostly directed towards right-wing outfits, on the pedestal of a yet-to-be-unveiled statue of Swami Vivekananda on the campus.

The boycott of classes by a section of students during the current protest has also followed the 2016 pattern that saw Left-oriented student leaders gunning for the saffron parivar and blaming the BJP-led Union government for the friction on campus, allegedly by using the RSS' student wing ABVP as an instrument to incite trouble and divide the student movement. The allegations have been denied by both officials and the ABVP.

While the Left and the ABVP, along with other student organisations on the campus, launched the anti-fee hike agitation together, the anti-right wing slogans on the campus seem to be driving a wedge between various sections of students. The intensity of the protests and accompanying violence also forced the university to shift its Executive Council's meeting outside the campus to avoid disruption. This came close to students laying siege to AICTE building, the venue for varsity's convocation, during which Union HRD was stuck for six hours. The agitated students also tried to break barricades, intensifying their fight against the University authorities.

The JNU Teachers' Assoiciation seems to be offering moral support to students who are at loggerheads with the V-C. JNUTA president DK Lobiyal criticised the change in venue for the EC and said, “The V-C should not handle the university like this. For last three-four years, even the Academic Council meetings have been postponed or shifted. We condemn it."

As the debate over fees and hostel facility charges rages in the elite university, there are no signs of an early end to the current JNUSU protest that is aimed at defining the contours of affordable, quality education. While student unions are known to be allergic to any form of hike in cost of their facilities, the JNU is no run-of-the-mill institution that may dither from taking touch decisions. At the same time, apprehensions related to cost escalation discouraging students from economically marginalised communities from taking admission need to be addressed. The students' protests have been able to force the administration to partially roll back the hostel fee hike but the continuing tussle between a reformist V-C and the powerful and vocal JNUSU does not seem to have reached a stage of finality. At least, not just yet.

The elite Jawaharlal Nehru Univesity (JNU), whose alumni include the likes of Nirmala Sitharaman and S Jaishankar, is in the throes of turmoil over an attempt by the authorities to hike fee, impose a dress code and curfew timings. The move has blown into a controversy with JNUSU holding protests and calling the proposed changes "regressive dystopia that the admin wants JNU to become".

With media glare on the violent protests – that have been continuing for three weeks – the JNU administration hastily rolled back, partially, the fee hike. The room rent which was raised to Rs 600 from Rs 20 for single occupancy will now be Rs 200. Similarly, for double occupancy the rent was hiked from Rs 10 to Rs 300. The amount will now be Rs 100.

The agitation started on October 4 when the university uploaded a draft hostel manual seeking feedback and the final decision on roll back was taken on November 13.

While one side is backing a hike in the fee and the other is opposing the additional burden on the poor students, there is undoubtedly sound logic behind both the arguments. However, an elite university should not dither from generating funds for maintaining its highs standards. For helping poor students, there could be two key possible solutions. One, allow poor students, who face problem paying the raised fee, to work a certain number of hours every week and earn some money to pay the fee – in Canada students can work up to 20 hours a week. Second, the HRD ministry can arrange a link-up between poor students and their respective Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha MP to get some educational grant from the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS). The use of MPLAD funds for financing poor students’ education in UGC-approved, select top universities may require the Central government to amend the law which should not be a problem.

The elite university, known as the cradle of thinkers and future leaders, has hit the headlines for wrong reasons once again after inviting criticism for alleged anti-national sloganeering. Former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar, and a few others were charged with sedition in 2016 over alleged anti-India slogans raised at an event on Afzal Guru, the man hanged for the Parliament attack.

The current crisis in the university has grown serious due to alleged lack of communication between the two sides. The protesting students claimed that Vice Chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar has turned down repeated requests for a meeting and discussion on the fee hike and other issues, while the administration has alleged that the students don't want to have a dialogue.

"The fee hike will affect an overwhelming number of students. It denies those from the deprived sections to avail education if they cannot pay. It crushes the dream of equality irrespective of ability to afford," said in a statement from the Left-dominated JNU Students Union.

One of the key demands raised by the students is the withdrawal of the draft hostel manual, in which service charges of Rs 1,700 were introduced and the one-time mess security fee, which is refundable, was hiked from Rs 5,500 to Rs 12,000.

Even after the JNU administration hurriedly reworked its fee hike plan, the students express unhapiness and called them "cosmetic". "JNU Executive Committee announces major rollback in the hostel fee and other stipulations. Also proposes a scheme for economic assistance to the EWS students. Time to get back to classes," HRD Secretary R Subrahmanyam tweeted.

The students had earlier staged a protest outside AICTE, the venue for the convocation. As the protests escalated, Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' was stuck inside for over six hours and forced to cancel two scheduled events.

JNU students taking to streets and mobbing social media posts in solidarity with their cause of a fee rollback have made screaming headlines and action-packed visuals on new channels over the past three weeks, reviving the age-old debate over generation of funds for quality education without denying access to the poor.

While confrontations between JNUSU and the administration are not new, the current flare up over thorny issues like fee hike, dress code and curfew timings has already started throwing up flashback of the infamous sedition episode of 2016 on the campus in which an FIR was filed against students, including the then president Kanhaiya Kumar.

At the root of the current flare-up, it seems, is the simmering discontent among students about the V-C allegedly playing into the hands of the BJP-led Central government to muzzle the student movement – a charge denied by both the V-C and the government.

The on-going impasse on the campus has also seen aggressive use of paint and banners to raise the students' voice – something which is intrinsic to protests at the high-profile university. However, the university administration is trying hard to limit this medium of protest by citing the Delhi Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 2007. Just like in 2016, a FIR has also been filed by the JNU administration during the current student protest and about a dozen students have been booked. The university's complaint this time round followed detection of objectionable slogans, mostly directed towards right-wing outfits, on the pedestal of a yet-to-be-unveiled statue of Swami Vivekananda on the campus.

The boycott of classes by a section of students during the current protest has also followed the 2016 pattern that saw Left-oriented student leaders gunning for the saffron parivar and blaming the BJP-led Union government for the friction on campus, allegedly by using the RSS' student wing ABVP as an instrument to incite trouble and divide the student movement. The allegations have been denied by both officials and the ABVP.

While the Left and the ABVP, along with other student organisations on the campus, launched the anti-fee hike agitation together, the anti-right wing slogans on the campus seem to be driving a wedge between various sections of students. The intensity of the protests and accompanying violence also forced the university to shift its Executive Council's meeting outside the campus to avoid disruption. This came close to students laying siege to AICTE building, the venue for varsity's convocation, during which Union HRD was stuck for six hours. The agitated students also tried to break barricades, intensifying their fight against the University authorities.

The JNU Teachers' Assoiciation seems to be offering moral support to students who are at loggerheads with the V-C. JNUTA president DK Lobiyal criticised the change in venue for the EC and said, “The V-C should not handle the university like this. For last three-four years, even the Academic Council meetings have been postponed or shifted. We condemn it."

As the debate over fees and hostel facility charges rages in the elite university, there are no signs of an early end to the current JNUSU protest that is aimed at defining the contours of affordable, quality education. While student unions are known to be allergic to any form of hike in cost of their facilities, the JNU is no run-of-the-mill institution that may dither from taking tough decisions. At the same time, apprehensions related to cost escalation discouraging students from economically marginalised communities from taking admission need to be addressed. The students' protests have been able to force the administration to partially roll back the hostel fee hike but the continuing tussle between a reformist V-C and the powerful and vocal JNUSU does not seem to have reached a stage of finality. At least, not just yet.

 


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