The Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi is witnessing yet another protest. It began on October 28, when the administration updated the Inter Hall Association manual, introducing new rules for hostels.
The manual hiked accommodation and mess fees by 999%, asked female students to come “appropriately dressed” for meals in dining halls, barred men and women from visiting each other’s hostels.
The students denounced these rules as “draconian” and rejected the manual. In fact, they argued that even the decision to update the manual was undemocratic given their representatives in the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union were not consulted about it. After they began protesting against the new rules, the students alleged, Vice Chancellor Jagadesh Kumar Mamidala had CRPF personnel deployed on the campus on Monday. Over 5000 students joined the protest on the same day.
Mamidala, on his part, has refused to speak with the protesting students, prompting them to file a missing person report on the vice chancellor at the Vasant Kunj police station. The report was filed on Tuesday after 200 students wrote a letter to the police. Further, posters declaring the vice chancellor to be “missing” have been put up on the campus.
In a symbolic protest against the showcause notices issued to some of the protesters, the students union posted a similar notice issued against the vice chancellor.
‘Why is the vice chancellor afraid?’
“The administration’s data shows the annual income of the families of about 40% of the students here is less than one lakh forty four thousand rupees. So, if fees go up to Rs 6000 per month, it is obvious that 40% of the students would have to drop out. No student from marginalised classes would be able to afford to study here,” Satish Yadav, general secretary of the JNUSU, explained their opposition to the new rules.
Adarsh Kumar, convener of the School of Language, Culture and Literature Studies, said, “If you are taking a service charge from us, it implies that the mess will be privatised. They have increased the fee to 6,000 rupees and they can revise this amount anytime. JNU is known for its culture of giving space and opportunity to the marginalised sections, and this is an attempt to kill that culture. They want to make the inclusive culture of this campus exclusive.”
He added, “It’s suggesting that those who have money can study and others have no such right. Merit-cum-means grant is given to students who have a family income of less than two lakh per annum. They are given 2,000 rupees. How can they afford to stay here with that amount now?”
In the last four years, several public universities have exponentially increased their fees. Just last month, Indian Institutes of Technology hiked fees for M Tech courses by around 900%. At Delhi University, students and teachers have been protesting a proposal to grant the status of Institute of Eminence to the University, arguing that it would lead to a steep rise in tuition fees and open the doors for privatisation.
At JNU, the protesting students also complained that the deployment of the CRPF on the campus was unnecessary and that it was done because the administration was afraid of the students protesting peacefully to demand their rights.
“Why is the vice chancellor afraid of students with a pen in their hand?” asked Yadav. “Why did he have to counter the protest by calling in men with guns in their hands?”
JNU’s student community has been at loggerheads with Mamidala ever since he was appointed vice chancellor almost four years ago. The students accuse him of siding with the Narendra Modi government in its attempt to “undermine all public spaces of education and suppress all voices of dissent”.
The students’ union, meanwhile, has insisted that they will not end the protest until the new manual is withdrawn.