As the protest launched by students of Jawaharlal Nehru University entered its fifteenth day today, several students were reportedly injured in a clash between the police and protesters. The students have been protesting “draconian” new rules in the Inter-Hall Administration draft manual, which applies to residents of the JNU hostels and allegedly passed by the administration without consulting student or union representatives. The students are demanding the draft manual be revoked.
The clash occurred this morning when a convocation programme was organised by the university at the All India Council for Technical Education Auditorium, Vasant Kunj. Chief guests for the event included Vice President of India, Venkaiah Naidu, and the Union Human Resource Development minister Ramesh Pokhriyal. But things didn’t go as planned.
Minutes before the start of the programme, massive protests broke out outside the venue, involving over 1,000 students. The students held placards with slogans such as, “JNU is not for sale” and “Dear VC, our future is at stake, will you meet us?”. Simultaneously, over 2,000 students were holding protests across the JNU campus.
In Vasant Kunj, the police used water cannons against the protestors, reportedly injuring many students. Reports on social media point out that people in “civilian dress” were spotted handling teargas guns at the protest.
Students claim Naidu left the venue after the protest started; however, the ceremony continued as scheduled. Meanwhile, JNU’s vice-chancellor Mamidala Jagdish Kumar has refused to meet with students despite repeated requests. A senior police officer also claims Kumar refused to meet the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Devendra Arya.
As matters stand, Pokhriyal and Kumar are still inside the auditorium while the protests gain momentum outside. Students are demanding Kumar meet with them before they clear a path for Pokhriyal to leave.
Senior politicians reacted to the situation on Twitter. Akhilesh Yadav called the use of water cannons of the protesting students “condemnable” while Ajay Kumar Lallu said that the central government “wants to destroy higher education”.
The draft manual
The heart of the protest is the draft manual, issued on October 28, and protests have been going on in JNU ever since. Last Monday, CRPF was deployed on campus after over 5,000 students joined the protest march against the IHA manual.
The updates in the IHA manual include certain rules such as raising the hostel fee by 999 per cent, introducing a curfew of 11.30 pm, and an advisory that female students have to “dress appropriately” for meals in the dining hall.
The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union alleges the administration didn’t consult their representative before passing the IHA manual draft. Therefore, they say, the new rules are “undemocratic”.
The union says 40 per cent of JNU students hail from families earning less than Rs. 2 lakh per annum, according to data issued by the JNU administration. A hike in fees will, therefore, force these students to drop out. Students also argue that JNU is an “egalitarian space” and these “discriminatory rules” are an attempt to threaten the university’s culture of inclusion.
The union released a statement this morning which said: “The unprecedented situation in the campus is a result of the intransigence of the administration regarding the IHA Manual and the Fee Hike. 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 affects those people who are pursuing education independently from the influence of patriarchal grip within families and societies. It crushes the dream of equality irrespective of ability to afford.”
The statement continued: “Other provisions like Dress Code and Curfew timings reflect the regressive dystopia that the admin wants JNU to become. The Draft Manual was passed in a sham meeting of the IHA without the representation of the duly elected Students Union. Since then, students have been on strike and organizing classes outside their classroom.”
On Sunday, the Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers’ Association released a statement in solidarity with the protesting students. The Hyderabad Central University and Pondicherry University also expressed solidarity with JNUSU.
Afreen Fatima, current councillor at the School of Language in JNU, told Newslaundry: “We want a new meeting where we can put forward the concerns of the students of the university. I’d be one of those students who would have to leave the campus if the fee is hiked by this percentage. The hike is over 999 per cent, which I wouldn’t be able to pay.”
Kriti Bhagat, a student of Labour Studies at JNU, said, “I am completely against the new fee structure which includes electricity bill and water bill separately. My father is a daily wage labourer, how will he manage to chart out this kind of money for my education?”
One of the protesting students, Rukhsana, slammed the new curfew timings in the draft manual. “This is an attack on our JNU culture,” she said. “We don’t always go out to enjoy at night, you know. We have debates and programmes that go on till late in the night. This curfew will hamper our intellectual growth.”
The students claim they went to meet the university’s associate dean, Vandana Mishra, on November 8. Mishra had chaired the meeting in which the draft manual was passed. Mishra allegedly “refused to budge” and refused to reconsider the fee hike.