This is a guest post by TONY KURIAN and SURAJ GOGOI
Students from different parts of the country started protesting since a Dalit student from one of the premier universities of the country (University of Hyderabad) committed suicide on account of caste discrimination by the administration. This new wave of protests can be traced back to Occupy UGC which erupted when University Grants Commission (UGC) decided to stop the monthly research stipend known as non-net fellowship of Rs 5000 and 8000 for MPhil and PHD respectively. The ministry concerned has since constituted a panel to review the decision on account of student’s protests. On the other hand, we are seeing India becoming part of World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on higher education. These instances should not be regarded as isolated moments but should be viewed as an integral part of a story unfolding. It is in this context that one should locate the student movement of our time. The movement itself is receiving much media attention, and, it was mostly couched as a student’s movement against the government. For sure, the immediate demands of the students is to ensure justice to Rohith Vemula. The present wave of student movement is aimed at reclaiming academia both from an exclusivist culture which permeates much of our academic institutions, and increasing influence of free market logic in our higher education.
Why are we seeing a new wave of student protests?
To understand why a movement like that we are witnessing now is extremely important for a vibrant and democratic academic space, we should explore some of the unwritten rules of academia itself and our academic institutions. Research is a long-term investment for the person who undertakes it. Every day he or she spends as a full time researcher is a day forgone from the job market. For a research scholar to earn a permanent job, it can take anywhere between five to ten years after the master’s programme.
The Occupy UGC movement looks irrelevant or ridiculous to the middle and upper classes in India because it can be made to appear so by the media. Not surprisingly, television channels and leading dailies either ignored the protests altogether, or worse, focused on the apparently far more *critical* issue of the “vandalism” and “disfigurement” of the ITO metro station by the protesting students. Times of India said they were “brazening it out” after their acts of vandalism, and on social media including Kafila, these student vandals have been additionally belittled by some as misguided pawns in the hands of an apparent conglomerate of ambitious lefty professors from JNU! Basically, anything but a legitimate set of demands, some of which this poster from the movement tries to explain…
(Incidentally, it was this image that was painted on the walls of the ITO metro station. Personally I found it cheerful).
Anyway, as Camalita Naicker reminded us in her excellent article on South Africa here on Kafila, student protests against rising student fees and shrinking scholarships and fellowships are no flash in the pan but a burgeoning worldwide phenomenon cutting across political affiliations. This is because you don’t need to be a leftist to understand that in contemporary conditions, pursuing a higher education is both the only guarantee to economic security, and the one thing that may be denied to you if you are from the wrong side of the tracks.
We post below statements from #OccupyUGC and #Occupy SOAS in support of each other. These have been sent to us by Akash Bhattacharya, research scholar in history at JNU.
[ Video Footage, courtesy Akhil Kumar, taken from his Facebook Page ]
The ongoing movement to #OccupyUGC by students from all the universities in Delhi has so far seen two instances of vicious attack by the Delhi Police. Students were manhandled, abused and badly beaten with sticks and batons. Several had to be hospitalized and some are severely injured. However, police officers have been lying about their actions.
The Indian Express reported the lathi charge and also quoted a senior police officer – DCP (Central), Paramaditya as saying, “Around 45-50 protesters were detained. No one was lathicharged. Policemen did not have lathis… the protesters attacked and injured policewomen.”
Here is a series of videos shot by Akhil Kumar, a young independent photo-journalist (who was himself severely beaten after this). This footage clearly shows up DCP (Central) Paramaditya as a liar.
Guest Post by Kanhaiya Kumar, President, Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union (JNUSU)
BRUTAL CRACKDOWN ON THE STUDENTS IN THE #OccupyUGC MOVEMENT: DAY7
Students from JNU, AUD, DU and Jamia Milia Islamia University who were protesting in front of the UGC building, were brutally lathicharged on 27th October and 33 students have been detained. This is the second time that students have been lathicharged and detained since October 21, 2015. Students across universities in and beyond Delhi initiated the #OccupyUGC movement protesting against UGC’s decision to discontinue non-NET fellowships, refuse any enhancement and introduce ‘merit’ and ‘income’ criteria in allocating fellowships to research scholars. In today’s lathicharge, one student was hospitalized in critical condition, female protestors were mishandled by male police, they were abused verbally and many have been seriously injured.
JNUSU condemns the brutal lathicharge/crackdown against the protesting students by the Delhi Police and appeals to common citizens to support the cause of the ongoing #OccupyUGC movement.
Researchers all over the country are protesting the move by the UGC to scrap the non-NET fellowship and students have gathered in hundreds to resume their agitation at the UGC office through OccupyUGC. it appears that one should be clear about what the student reaction means: it is much more than as a demand for monetary benefits. The student mobilization happened after the committee that met at the UGC office in Delhi to discuss and increase the non-NET fellowship, decided to scrap it. Following the protests that lasted through the nights from 21 October, the Minister of Human Resources Development tweeted that the fellowship shall be continued leaving out one crucial detail: its availability to new students. This decision to end all financial support of researchers doing their MPhil and PhD until they qualify NET or JRF is a huge threat for the research community in India as this is a clear move to professionalise research and make it a mere add on to teaching career. Continue reading The Move to Professionalise Research: Aswathy Senan→
On the afternoon of 21st October, students from several universities in Delhi began ‘Occupying’ the Delhi premises of the head-office of University Grants Commission (UGC) – the government mandated body under the Ministry of Human Resources that is supposed to govern the functioning of universities across the country. The occupation continued through the night of the 21st, the day of the 22nd, and is still currently in process. The students occupying the UGC premises have decided, as of now, not to let the UGC function. Goons from the BJP aligned students organization Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) have now reached the UGC and are continuously harassing and abusing the student activists who are in ‘occupation’ of UGC. There is heavy police presence. There is a state of near siege at the UGC head quarters near ITO Chowk in Delhi.