The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), one of India’s most prestigious university, have been brought to a standstill for almost a month as thousands of students protest a hostel fee hike.
For almost four weeks now, students have been protesting against an increase in accommodation fees at the top university.
Under the new proposed fees, students will have to pay between 1,800 rupees ($25; £20) and 3,600 rupees ($50; £40) every year for housing on campus. They were previously paying between 120 rupees ($1.60) and 240 rupees ($3).
They will also have to pay for other services – such as electricity and sanitation – which they say they have never had to do before.
Many say that the new structure is prohibitive, particularly for students from poorer backgrounds, and will affect its standing as an inclusive institution.A renowned centre for teaching and research that provides education at a fraction of the cost charged by its private counterparts, the government-run JNU is a highly coveted university.
Its alumni hold sway in the bureaucracy, journalism, the police and a host of other public and private sector jobs.
Private education in India is still unaffordable for the majority of the country’s population and jobs in government institutions are limited. JNU, its supporters say, plays an important role in remedying that.
“The democratisation of the elite has long-term consequences for the healthy development of Indian society. So we need a lot more institutions like JNU,” said former vice chancellor Dr YK Alagh.
The JNU administration says a revision of fees had been due for years and that dorm room rent had not been “revised in the last three decades”.
Nearly 8,000 students study at the university, of which about 60% live on campus, say students.
At an earlier protest, students gathered outside an auditorium to attract the attention of a federal minister who was inside but they were forced away by security forces who used water cannons to disperse them.
Things went south at the latest stand-off on Monday, where police used barricades and a large force to scuttle a planned student march to the parliament. The police response led to scores of injuries among students.
MS Randhawa, a senior police officer in Delhi, said that police “exercised maximum restraint” and “students may have been injured as they tried to break down barricades”.
But the university, seen as a bastion of the political left by many, has long been in the thick of controversy. Students at JNU have been reviled by critics – most of whom are from the upper-middle classes – for being “freeloaders”, “parasites” and a burden on taxpayers.
These narratives have resurfaced following the latest student protest.The present chaotic situation at JNU has meant that many students are left uncertain about their future.
For Jyoti Kumar, who is pursuing a masters degree in Russian, the hike in fees may force her to drop out. Her father is a farmer, who earns between 70,000 and 90,000 rupees ($975 and $1,253) every year.
“My father hasn’t been able to process the fee hike,” she said. “My younger sister and brother also want to study at JNU, but how can they study here with this fee hike?” (Source: BCC)