JNU and the idea of Affordable Education


JNU has been on boil since last four years starting from the February 9th incident in 2016 when news channels aired some doctored videos with ‘masked people’ chanting objectionable slogans and the whole university was declared Anti National. Cut to 2020, the campus again saw around 70-100 masked goons entering the campus on the first Sunday evening of this year and vandalizing public property, assaulting students, beating up teachers and literally creating a reign of terror for around good 3-4 hours. In the meantime, the police just stood by at the gates of JNU waiting for JNU VC’s permission to enter the varsity and stop the violence.

Not only did the Delhi police not enter the campus till the masked terrorists completed their job, they also allowed those terrorists to move out of the campus safely. This has been caught in a video recording as solid evidence. Now let’s come to the crux of the matter here, which is the fee hike issue. Not going into the technicalities of the fee hike, the important question is that isn’t education a basic need for everyone and therefore by virtue of being a ‘basic necessity’ for any society which either claims or wants to be progressive, shouldn’t it be free of cost for everyone.

Now this statement might alarm a section of people who already claim JNU students to be freeloaders. The problem with these people is that they have ingrained the idea of paying up for things as basic as education. These are the same bunch of people who might argue for paying up for clean air in Delhi If Delhi Air becomes too polluted. This section of people basically wants to say if you have money, you buy stuff (including education and healthcare)and if you don’t, you have no right to raise your voice. Apparently, this bunch has learnt the flawed Tax Payers argument from those noisy shouting matches on TV channels, which the news anchors shamelessly call primetime debates.

What could be a more pure idea than spending the tax payer’s money on making things like quality education and quality health services free for all? If the tax payer’s money is not spent on providing free education and health services for everyone, then can anyone claim India to be a progressive society? One may give a counter argument that look at US and other European countries, they don’t have free education or health services but they’re advanced. To this, one can answer safely by saying comparing the western societies who have been developed since more than a century with India which is still highly feudalistic in its nature and character, one is doing a disservice to the society and is trying to prove a false equivalence just for the sake of it.

The motto of “PADHAI aur DAWAAI sabkeliyemuft ho” should be a benchmark that government of India should strive actively to make it happen. To everyone’s dismay, government seems more interested in cutting down the budget of primary education by 3k crores. However, the overall education budget 2020 saw a rise of approximately five thousand crores.

Education and Health should be free of cost for everyone. That duty should be the lowest common denominator for every government. Scholarships should be replaced with ‘Free Education’, not virtually, but in letter and spirit.If things like Free Education and Free Health are a strain on exchequer, then one doesn’t know what purpose the exchequer serves. It can be easily done, if perks enjoyed by the industrialists and politicians on public exchequer is removed. But that intent is clearly lacking.

While the JNU students are called freeloaders, the actually freeloaders are crony businessmen and industrialists who keep getting doll outs in thousands of crores and their debts being written off and paid by the public money. They’re the ones who have a proven track record of being the biggest burden on the public exchequer. At the other end of the spectrum, the share of Education budget is not even five percent of India’s GDP. This is matter of absolute shame for the government which keeps doing PR about India becoming a ‘Vishvaguru’. Can a country, with a size and population of India should even dream about becoming a knowledge hub when the education budgets keep getting slashed bit by bit, year after year?

These are the fundamental questions which the students of JNU have been raising along with their own issue of fee hike. The draft of New Education Policy showcases a future where education is going to become even more costly. As a country with a huge socio economic inequality, an affordable quality education is the only way out for the large masses to come out of their poverty and have some level playing field in a society which is highly unleveled. Should the students not voice their opinion about such basic issues? The very fact that people complain and protest is a testimony to democratic values and ideals which the students want to uphold and question the government in return.

The truth however is that no government wants to be questioned. It dislikes its power and authority to be challenged, specially by students, who government wants to be “obedient” and “non-questioning”. The interesting fact that those who are in power now are the same people who protested violently in Gujarat and Bihar during the NavNirmanAandolan of 1974 which started with an issue of mess fee hike only! History repeats itself. 45 years later those protestors who are running the government want the students of today to forget these historical facts about them.

Gladly, public memory doesn’t fade away like that. But sadly what is fading away is a large section of people’s common sense and the idea of being a democratic citizen who keeps questioning the state and fights for a better and progressive society, an ideal which JNU has always proudly stood for since its inception more than half a century ago.

Martand Jha is Senior Research Fellow, School of International Studies, JNU




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