Students from four political parties came together to hold a demonstration at the Panjab University Student’s Centre on Thursday morning to express solidarity with students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi, who have been protesting against a steep hike in hostel and mess security fees at the University.
Student leaders from the All India Students’ Association (AISA), the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), Students For Society (SFS) and the Punjab Student Union (PSU) Lalkaar stood in a circle outside the students’ center, holding posters and chanting slogans. “I watch the news everyday, where people inquire why students of JNU are so angry over paying Rs 300 as hostel fee. How can a student, whose parents earn Rs 20- 30 per day, pay Rs 300 for hostel fees alone?” asked Uudhawna from SFI.
The protests at JNU began on October 28th, when hostel fees and other charges were increased by almost 300 per cent at the university. The fees for a single occupancy room was increased from Rs 20 to Rs 600, while fees for the double occupancy room was increased from Rs 10 to Rs 200. Further, the refundable one-time security fee was hiked from Rs 5,500 to Rs 12,000.
“If we don’t stand in solidarity with fellow public universities, then who will stand with us in our time of need?” said Amandeep from PSU Lalkaar. According to Amandeep, JNU stood in solidarity with Panjab University in 2017,when a similar protest took place over the issue of a proposed fee hike between the range of 40 per cent to 1100 per cent at PU. After violent protests erupted at the university, the fee hike was restricted to 10 per cent. “There are still 68 students against whom the university authorities have pressed charges from the 2017 protest. The senate has promised these will be removed, but nothing has been done yet,” claimed Amandeep.
“I don’t think students from PU should worry about any fee hike at the university as of yet. There was a small 10 per cent hike for new students this year and 5 per cent for older students, but we haven’t heard anything about further increase in fees,” said professor Rajesh Gill, president of the PU Teachers’ Association and a syndicate member.
However president of the SFS party Varinder Singh, is worried about the a fee hike at PU, which he says is inevitable. “There will be at least 10 per cent increase every year now. Furthermore, the privatisation of higher education will occur throughout the country, no one can escape it. Have you read the Draft National Education Policy? It is scary how much of our education the government plans to privatise,” said Varinder.
The Draft Education Policy proposed by the government this year, states that all higher education institutions will be restructured to “gradually move towards full autonomy – academic, administrative, and financial.” Many fear that the word “autonomy here implies a shift towards privatisation of higher education.” The word ‘Autonomy’ normally implies a positive thing, wherein the administrative functioning of educational institutions is not hampered with. “Now the word ‘autonomy’ implies that the government wishes to shun it’s responsibility towards higher education and grant corporations the right to run them profitably,” said Dr Chaman Lal, PU senator and a former president of the JNU Teachers’ Association.
“Education is not a commodity that the government can decide who can afford and who cannot,” said Priya, a member of SFS. PU Senator Lal shares Priya’s opinion. According to him, the situation has arisen from the Centre’s need to squash a stalwart of liberal thought and education in India. “The aim is to destroy institutions like JNU who have always prided themselves as institutions that provide quality education which can be afforded across economic backgrounds. This is an attempt to disallow poor students from availing the same opportunities that their privileged counterparts can avail,” he Lal.
On Thursday, the JNU Executive Council partially rolled back the fee hike and proposed a 50 per cent concession to students belonging to the EWS category. Students, however, continued the protest, calling the roll back decision a ‘gimmick’. Meanwhile, students at PU continue to worry for their own future with regards to rising fees and unaffordable education. “Every government educational institution faces the same danger. We should stand in solidarity now, lest we suffer the same fate as JNU later,” said Amanjeet.