New Delhi: While the vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar was actively tweeting about Dr Vandana Mishra, associate dean of students (DoS) being held ‘captive’ in a classroom by students, he was not available to have any dialogue regarding the issues of around 8,000 students who have been actively protesting for the past ten days.
Students have opposed the new hostel manual draft, which the administration plans to implement. The key concerns whirl around the unstructured hostel and mess fee hike, ‘appropriate’ dress code for students and implementation of curfew timings for hostel residents. The manual also includes clauses for individual installation of electricity and water meters for hostel rooms and a monthly service charge of Rs 1,700, which could be hiked at a later time.
According to protesting students and the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU), the hike and additional fees will directly hit 40% of economically marginalised students in the university. The implementation of curfew time of 11:30 pm will prevent students from studying in libraries.
The protests have seen a huge turnout, with students standing in solidarity with the cause, irrespective of their ideological differences.
Students say the administration’s aim is to kill the inclusive idea of the university, while encouraging a new wave of privatisation. JNUSU vice president Saket Moon told The Wire that since the VC has come to power, “He has tried to change the very character of this space. The mechanisms have swallowed up the democratic opinions of the stakeholders of the university.” He pointed out that the idea is to treat education as a commodity, making it accessible to only a certain class and caste of society.
JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh was actively handling the crowd in the vicinity of the classroom where the protestors were expecting an answer from Dr Mishra, who had chaired the decision-making in Inter-Hall Administration (IHA) meeting for the hostel manual. Speaking to The Wire, she said the VC’s tweet about the DoS being held captive was false portrayal. “We questioned her on the manual and what is at stake for the university. She responded with a long silence,” Ghosh said.
She added that Mishra asked students from marginalised sections to look for alternatives. Her statements were confirmed by Moon, who claimed to have audio recordings.
The draft was framed without any consultation from the student committee and was released on October 3, asking for suggestions. Before the IHA meeting, initially scheduled on October 18, more than 3,000 students sent an e-mail rejected the manual. The meeting was then postponed to October 28. Students believe that this was done to ensure a weaker opposition, as many left for Diwali holidays.
The administration did not invite the JNUSU to participate, but the representatives entered anyway, declaring the practice as illegal. Sighting the protest, the meeting was postponed to afternoon and a 140-page document deciding the right to education of close to half of the academic strength was concluded in ten minutes.
“We want the administration to declare this as null and void, and initiate a fresh discussion with the students committee. We have made multiple attempts to reach out to them but the bridge of dialogue has being completely burnt down,” said Moon.
An ABVP supporter explained their absence from the admin block area of protest saying, “We are completely against the new hostel draft and we were with this way of protesting until a week back but now we are against the approach.”
He continued, “The symbolic protest of going to the police station to lodge a missing VC FIR looks like a mockery to me. We believe in solutions.”
On asking about his idea of solutions, he spoke about contacting the municipal corporation and the Delhi government to ease the electricity and water bills and house tax on the university. He also mentioned that rather than targeting the administration, the ABVP wants to find the source of the problem. “We want to urge the government to maintain the distinctiveness of JNU in the country and reconsider any policy which attacks the culture of the institution.”
Satish, general secretary of the JNUSU, responded to the ABVP’s statement by saying that the administration should be the coordinating channel between the students and higher authorities. He said boycotting an active protest shouldn’t be the way to express disagreement with approach.
Regarding the duration of the protest, he commented, “It’s a situation of do or die for many here. If this hostel manual isn’t discarded, this would mean abandoning of academics by a huge marginalised section and it’s extremely unfortunate.”
He also condemned the patriarchal approach by the authorities to govern the freedom of students. Quoting ‘appropriate dress’, which hasn’t been defined, is being viewed as a regressive ideology. The university has never had the concept of curfew timings in the past and its library has been accessible for 20 hours a day (8 am-4 am). A student spoke about the new tradition of locking up parts of the university based on time slots and ‘raiding’ hostels at odd times as restricting the freedom of students and an attempt to target visiting students.
Ex-JNUSU president Geeta Kumari said the hostel draft manual is built upon the idea of ‘the rich remain rich and the poor remain poor’. She, along with others, said the protests would continue until the manual is rolled back.
“Across the world, we can see an agenda to kill cultural, academic and educational spaces, to suppress discussion of ongoing affairs. They fear that our education will make us question them and questions scare them,” said a student of international studies.
The unanimous stand against the VC’s statement of ‘innocent students not being able to study’, was that only administrative activities have been prohibited, whereas lectures are being taken in open grounds.
There has been zero communication from the VC, which appears to be a strategic move to smother the enthusiastic protests. But the move has not had the desired effect, with the hallways of JNU echoing with slogans of ‘Inqilab Zindabad’ and ‘Azadi’ even past midnight.
“Education can’t be sold based on the purchasing power of a student,” said Shashi, a PhD student who has spent five years on the campus. He is adamant to save the essence of inclusiveness of a public university. He added, “This isn’t like any other protest in the past: against attendance or being called anti-national. We are fighting a real attack.”
Contrary to the protests in the past which were perception oriented, the current movement is only policy-based. The present anticipated zeal is distress, rage and hope amongst JNU students, who are awaiting and demanding only a process of communication with the authorities for almost a fortnight. Students, irrespective of their socio-economic background, are participating in the protest.
Aishwarya Tripathi is an editorial intern with The Wire.