Thousands of students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, India, who were marching to parliament to protest the massive hike in hostel fees were detained and baton-charged, leaving some of them grievously injured yesterday. The students continued their march but were stopped at many places. The protesters said they would not relent until the government withdrew the fee hike. Officer-bearers of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) were detained and taken to an undisclosed location.
There was massive police deployment near the university in a bid to prevent the students from marching.
“Twelve of us have been put in a bus and been taken to unknown location because we were peacefully marching for our right to education,” Aishe Ghosh, president of JNUSU posted on Facebook.
Meanwhile, the JNU Teachers Association (JNUTA), in a statement, expressed deep concern over the massive deployment of police and barricading of campus gates.
“Any such measure to thwart the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed democratic rights and to impede the students form peacefully taking the voice beyond the campus would be extremely unfortunate,” it said in a statement.
Hundreds of students from JNU have been protesting for nearly three weeks against the draft hostel manual, which has provisions for a hostel fee hike, dress code and curfew timings. The manual increased hostel fee by nearly 1000%, in addition to imposing regressive restrictions on students, such as curfews. Some students belonging to extremely marginalized sections have expressed fear that they may have to abandon their studies if the fee hike was not rolled back. Following intense protests, the administration claimed it had rolled back a portion of the hike but the students pointed out that it was a minor step and sought the complete withdrawal of the hike.
Initially, the barricades outside JNU’s gates were removed and the students were allowed to march. The police later stopped the march around 500 meters from the varsity’s gates.
Former JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) president N Sai Balaji said, “Delhi Police stops JNU students peaceful march to parliamentarians! The MHRD is fooling students by forming committee. Why didn’t the committee suspend fee hike till dialogue is happening? We are demanding a rollback of the fee hike.”
Priyanka, another student said, “We are being given a lollipop in terms of the partial rollback. I am the first from my family to reach university. There are many others like me. Education is not the birthright of a privileged few.”
Students took out the march carrying banners which read “save public education”, fees must fall” and “ensure affordable hostels for all”.
Another student, who did not wish to be identified, said, “We haven’t seen our vice-chancellor in a long time. It’s time that he comes out and talks to us. Instead of appealing to us through teachers and other methods, he should initiate a dialogue with us,” the PTI report said.
On November 11 too, the police had brutally attacked the students who were protesting the fee hike and other measures at the convocation of the university.
JNU is one of India’s most renowned universities and its affordable fee has enabled thousands of students from marginalized backgrounds to access higher education. According to the university’s data, 40% of the students come from economically backward backgrounds. The university is also a bastion of left-wing politics. The assault on JNU is part of the far-right wing Narendra Modi’s government’s measures against both public education and left-wing politics in India.