JNU students' movement: The struggle to save public education

JNU students’ movement: The struggle to save public education

Youth & Campus

Once again the streets of Delhi are experiencing the battle between injustice and justice, between the trendsetters of obnoxious agendas and the upholders of the democratic spirit. The students’ movement against arbitrary fee hike in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is now bringing the most-vilified university in the headlines again. The Delhi Police unleashed macabre atrocities against unarmed protesters raising their voice against the unjustified and egregious fee hike by Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government through Vice-Chancellor (VC) M Jagadesh Kumar, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh stooge who has been perched atop the institution of repute to saffronise it and close its doors to poor and marginalised communities. After being beaten black and blue by the lawyers affiliated with the BJP in Delhi’s courts, the Delhi Police is trying to reclaim its masculine image by thrashing the unarmed JNU students, their bete noire since years. 

After a series of standoffs between the students and the JNU administration, the latter hiked the fees and hostel charges for students in the residential university where a large number of students belonging to marginalised sections of the society come from remote areas of India for their higher education. Apart from the fee hike, regressive rules regarding dress codes and timings were enacted by the inefficient Hindutva fascist VC. The JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) launched an intense struggle against the tyrannical rule and anti-student decisions of the JNU administration, which kindled the flames of a large-scale students’ movement.

The JNUSU’s statement, as published by The Indian Express, states the following as the major demands of the students after calling the fiasco at the university an Academic Emergency

  1. The meeting on hostel rules be reconvened in the presence of student representatives and all regressive parts pertaining to clothing/timings/etc must be revoked.
  2. The 999% fee hike from 2740 to 30100 annually must be rolled back immediately.
  3. The JNU VC must be removed for his inability to carry out the role of a Vice-Chancellor in any reasonable and democratic manner. (sic)
JNU fees hike
The hiked fee structure caused agony among marginalised students

Under the patronage of the Modi regime, the VC, driven by utmost hubris and sheer disregard for the poor and the marginalised students, remained unmoved over the demands placed by the students. Though there was a decision of a partial rollback in fees, after which a Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry official tweeted that the students should return to their classes, the JNUSU called it hogwash and continued with their struggle. Unable to control the situation through all nefarious means, the VC had connived with Home Minister Amit Shah to unleash Delhi Police’s state violence targeting protesting students, which injured a lot of them. 

Nonetheless, the student movement didn’t go without the usual vitriolic attack from the Hindutva fascist camp, its toady media outlets and its nincompoop elitist supporters, especially the upper-caste Hindu elites and urban middle-class, who, benefitting from the trickle-down, neoliberal, corporate-hegemonic economy, started questioning the logic behind public-funded education or the need for the students to pursue studies in such streams that won’t promise them employment. These Hindutva fascist termites continued unabashedly with their heinous propaganda to feed stereotypes regarding the JNU students, especially the women students, among the working class and lower-middle classes, with a clear objective of vilifying the just movement by the JNUSU and the students for their basic right to higher education in public-funded universities.

A large number of rabid Hindutva hate mongers and their running dogs carried out a caricature of the JNU students incessantly. They projected the students as a burden on the public exchequer as they mostly incline towards the left. The right-wing universe on social media and in the real world lampooned the students by virulently opposing their demand for universal access to public-funded higher education for all. By milling apocryphal bush telegraphs, using the chosen leitmotifs on “tax-payers’ money”, these apparatchiks of Hindutva fascism and corporate tyranny kept advocating for an exclusive education system for those who can afford to pay exorbitant charges and privatisation of the education sector.

These worshippers of “tax-payers’ money” consider spending money from public exchequer for education, which helps in building a human resource pool for the society, as wastage. However, they are fine with the “tax-payers’ money” used to bail-out big corporate houses or pay for the prime minister’s incessant self-promotional advertisements. Around Rs 940 billion is lying unused in the government’s coffer that was to be spent on higher education for this budget year. According to Comptroller and Auditor General’s report, more than Rs 2.18 trillion collected by the Modi regime under education cess remains unutilised till date. If not for subsidised public education, where does the Modi regime plans to invest this money? To bail out its corporate-crony bosses? To build a temple or to promote Modi’s face on all print and electronic media? Rather, than spending the money on subsidising higher education, rather than providing the students with a just, inclusive and progressive education opportunity, the Modi regime is more interested in mobilising police to crush the students’ movement. 

It may be a fact that the universities like the JNU have been used by the Indian ruling classes as safety valves and to contain the revolutionary potential of students from reaching out to the masses at large, yet, these institutions helped students from the poor households, from the minority and marginalised communities to avail higher education. The importance of subsidised education, public-funded education is immensely important in a society like India where for centuries caste discrimination excluded the toiling classes from availing education. It’s public-funded education that can not only create a level-playing field for the underprivileged and marginalised people but also really help create the best pool of human resource for the society. 

Today, the fight of the JNU students against the anti-education Modi regime and the VC’s tyrannical decision to hike the fees and hostel charges manifold is a just struggle not only to safeguard the rights of the students of the university but of the country and the future, as the sword of Damocles hangs on public-funded education, as the big corporate houses like Reliance aim at establishing hegemony over the higher education domain with the help of a servile regime. The JNU students’ movement isn’t merely about the fees hike of the university, but also about the future of all students whose parents can’t afford to pay for higher education. It’s a just battle and in this, each of those forces that oppose the JNU students or try to wreck the students’ unity, are enemies of youth, enemies of the future and enemies of progress. In this battle against injustice, India must stand beside the JNU students against tyranny and fascism. 

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