Student, admin face-off as old as JNU
Though students from Jawaharlal Nehru University have been protesting against the hostel fee hike for almost a month, the agitation over affordable and accessible education in the varsity is not new. In 1972, three years after the university was founded, the students’ union had started the first protests in the varsity demanding for a more “inclusive” admission policies and a reduction in the mess fee.
CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat, who served as the president of JNU students’ union (JNUSU) in 1973-74, said, “Since JNU was a national university, we had to ensure that students from all backgrounds came to the varsity. The-then union members analysed the first-year admissions in JNU and found that around 70% of the students in social sciences were coming from three Delhi colleges, including St Stephen’s College and Lady Shri Ram College.”
To ensure that students from marginalised backgrounds too reach the university for higher education, the students’ union then began an agitation. “We even gheraoed the-then vice chancellor Gopalaswami Parthasarathy and held the first one-day strike for our demands, which included capping of mess fee at R 100 per month,” Karat said.
Since October 30, JNU students have been protesting against the steep hike in hostel fee, which they claim will push the marginalised students out of higher education. Claiming a right to accessible and affordable education for all, students took to Delhi’s streets and called for a complete shutdown in the university till the fee hike was rolled back completely.
JNU administration said the hike was long due and has offered a 50% fee confession to students belonging to Below Poverty Line category following protests by students.
“Currently, JNU is having a deficit of more than Rs 45 crore. It is largely because of the huge electricity and water charges and the salary of contractual staff....Thus, there is no alternative for the Inter Hall Administration than to collect service charges from the students,” the university said in a statement last week.
Sohail Hashmi, writer and an alumnus of JNU, said: “We also demanded students’ participation in all levels of decision-making, including formation of mess committees with elected representatives. When the mess bills started shooting up, we had organised protests. Many students could not afford a mess bill of Rs 200 even at that time.”
“If the university had been allowed to function the way it was, it would become just another university in Delhi. There needed to be mechanisms so that students from all over the country could come to the national university,” he said.
Thus, after student interventions, Karat said the university moved from a completely merit-based admission system to its model of deprivation points wherein previous academic record would not receive 100% weightage. Instead, students from SC/ST/OBC communities or those with economically weaker sections would be given points for admission. Currently, only undergraduate and postgraduate students are eligible for deprivation points.
“After a struggle, negotiations were started and the policies were changed along with administration and it was implemented in 1973,” he said. “Even the demand to cap the mess fee at Rs 100 was accepted by the university.”
On Monday, former JNUSU presidents, including Karat and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, extended solidarity to the ongoing protest by JNU students against the hostel fee hike and demanded a more affordable and accessible public education system.
Issuing a joint statement, 12 former JNUSU leaders called for a judicial inquiry into the police lathicharge on JNU students during November 18 march, to include students’ representatives in decision-making processes of university, and an increased budgetary allocation for education.