Controversies are swirling around Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University once again. It is witnessing two simultaneous protests by the students – against “draconian” new hostel rules and against the delay in paying the salaries of newly appointed workers.
The authorities Tuesday amended the Inter Hall Administration manual steeply hiking the hostel fees, introducing a “dress code” for mealtimes, specifying a curfew of 11 pm, and barring male students from entering women’s hostels, and vice versa. The draft manual states that violation of any of these rules can result in administrative action. It prohibits protests and demonstrations as well.
To oppose the “arbitrary rules”, the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union called for a protest on Wednesday. The union alleged that the meeting where the IHA manual was amended didn’t have a JNUSU representative as required and, therefore, was undemocratic.
“Since when does a university decide what’s appropriate or not to wear?” asked a first year master’s student who attended the protest Wednesday morning.
Apeksha, a PhD student and councillor, said, “The fee hike is nearly double. Students don’t get that amount of money from scholarships. How do you expect us to give it all in fees? We are here to protest the undemocratic way in which yesterday’s meeting was held and also against how the university is trying to control our bodies. In the last 50 years, we have never had a curfew or a dress code. Why are these rules coming up now?”
Ishani, a masters student, said, “I came to JNU for its quality education at low prices. I have three siblings. The fee hike will mean a big financial hit for my family.”
The protesters marched across the campus, calling for a shutdown with slogans such as “JNU aaj band hai, kal bhi band rahega”. JNU is closed today and will stay closed tomorrow. Slogans of Inquilab Zindabad and Azadi too echoed. They didn’t spare even Vice Chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar. “Gali gali main shor hai, Mamidala chor hai,” they shouted . “Mamidala is a thief.”
Kumar took to Twitter to express his dismay. He accused the students of disrupting Tuesday’s meeting and not allowing Dean of Students Umesh Kadam to leave the venue despite his ill health, and threatened to take “strict action” against them.
The students denied the allegation. “The dean is going around saying the students are trying to kill him but I and the president escorted him to the health centre in an ambulance,” said Saket, vice president of the JNUSU. “We were respectful and democratic.”
Meanwhile, a group of students led by the All India Students’ Association, are protesting against the administration for not clearing the salaries of the newly appointed workers. “Rights of the sanitation workers, security guards, mess workers, and others tendering their services to the JNU community are being violated on a daily basis,” AISA said in a press release. According to former JNUSU president N Sai Balaji, the sanitation workers have been protesting for over a week, demanding that their salaries be paid.
In September, the university replaced guards from private companies with retired Army personnel to provide security on the campus. The move was described as “veteran welfare” by the administration, but was severely criticized by AISA. “Just like Modi government’s hypocrisy, the JNU administration wants to misuse the name of the jawans for its political ends but claims to work for their well-being every inch of the way. Why else would they have this gross insensitivity towards them and delay the monthly salary disbursal of JNU’s security guards drawn from the ranks of ex-jawans?”
AISA also criticised the administration’s move to transfer private workers to other departments to make space for new ones. Expressing her concern about this, a member of AISA said, “Permanent mess staff like cooks, helpers are being shifted to administrative buildings. There is a fear among contract as well as the permanent staff that this is a mechanism to shut them out from their jobs.”
AISA claimed they wrote to the vice chancellor demanding that the salaries be paid immediately and the sanitation workers be given their statutory bonus. However, they claim to have received no response yet.
Newslaundry tried speaking to some security guards about the matter, but they refused lest they face action from the administration.