Why JNU's fight against commercialised education is a part of a larger movement
It has been more than two weeks since the students are protesting against the new hostel manual which was prepared without consulting the JNUSU (Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union). The draft manual has increased the fee hike more than 999% where students who come from weaker economic sections would not be able to sustain and would have just no option but to withdraw their admission.
The students have been protesting since the 28th of October to date. There have been a complete boycott of classes by students and a few professors. Some have taken classes but outside the school area like in lawn, badminton court, student union office. There have been numerous school-level, centre-level and hostel-level GBMs (General Body Meeting), peaceful march and formation of human chains against the hostel draft manual.
On 4th November there was a mass protest by students of the university which later led to the filling of complaint report for illegally passing the draft manual without any dialogue with students. After two weeks of protests, thousands of students hit the streets on Monday 11th of November 2019 against this draft hostel manual. During this continuous struggle and crisis in JNU, students came to know that the vice-chancellor has come to AICTE for university convocation.
The students in the most spirited and democratic way went to the venue to register their demands and protest before the Vice President of India and the Union Minister for HRD who were the chief guest. Students in large numbers marched to AICTE where they were stopped by the Delhi Police and CRPF. The way police behaved with students is to be condemned, the students were hit multiple times by the Delhi police and also there was the use of water cannon and lathi-charge on students. Many students have been seriously injured because of the lathi-charge and water canon. What was more unfortunate was the attitude of VC not engaging with students but acting through police.
The JNUTA Teachers’ Assembly held on 11 November 2019 at JNU began by unanimously adopting a resolution: (i) condemning the brutal police action against peacefully protesting JNU students today which severely injured a large number of them; and (ii) demanding that the JNU Vice-Chancellor at whose behest this action was undertaken step down from his position. The police action was only to defend the obstinate refusal of the Vice-Chancellor to engage in any dialogue with students on their concerns. Different universities across the world are also sending their solidarity messages to the struggle of JNU.
Jawaharlal Nehru University has been a model University in India of public education where the students from deprived backgrounds could access higher education due to the low fee structure and subsidized food in hostels. The current administration, which is acting as a mere agents carries the political agenda of the NDA government, have unleashed different projects to overturn this structure. Introducing self-financing courses was one of the initial steps. And now with making the hostel, a place where students of economically deprived sections cannot afford to be residents will further intensify the exclusionary model.
I would also talk about the JNU student politics and people often criticising JNU and calling it a hub of politics, “staying out of politics” or just being annoyed by JNU student politics is a 'privilege action'. This is the privilege that allows you to live a non-political existence. “Kristen Tea” also talks about the wealth, your race, your abilities or your gender allows you to live a life in which you likely will not be a target of bigotry, attacks, deportation, or genocide.
You don't want to get political, you don't want to fight because your life and safety are not at stake. It is hard and exhausting to bring up issues of oppression. The fight is tiring. Self-care is essential. But if you find politics annoying and you just want everyone to be nice, please know that people are fighting for their lives and safety.
You might not see it, but that's what privilege does. I salute the protesting students in JNU and their fight/struggle is part of a larger movement against the commercialisation of education. We the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University demand the JNU administration to immediately withdraw all draconian amendments to the hostel manual and initiate a dialogue with the student union (JNUSU) and JNU students.
Further, I appeal to all democratic and progressive sections in the country to extend your solidarity with all struggles against the criminal plan of commercialisation of education by the ruling class. We, the students of JNU will fight and continue our struggle until this draconian exclusionary hostel draft manual is revoked. This is not just a fight of the current eight thousand students but also a fight for the upcoming generation who has dreamt to study in this university. We are JNU, and Together we will fight, and we shall win.
(The author is an MPhil student of JNU & Councillor, School of Social Sciences JNU)