The series of press releases made by the JNU administration during the ongoing protests, voice ‘concern’ in a variety of words about the academic careers of ‘regular’ students whose routines have been disrupted. Given the proposed fee hike (no less than 300%), the possibility of pursuing a ‘regular’ education has been disrupted anyway. Shrinking budgets and funds, limited access to journals and publications, dismissal of departmental requirements, targeting scholars do not constitute parts of a ‘regular’ academe.
Countering this fee hike is not ‘some’ students’ agitation. It is every common student’s agenda and as common students, it is important to ask how funds have been utilised in the campus. How is it that the administration has fund allocations for ‘whitening’ all yellow lights within the campus but not for student access to important journals and newspapers? There seems to be endless resource for increasing security personnel and surveillance technology, but not basic student scholarships. There is sufficient time and resource to organise events titled ‘Brides of India’ but not conferences on critical pedagogy, sexual harassment within campus or even a face-to-face discussion with the students in the campus. The administration also seems to have the required funds to keep paying lawyers, for every court appearance, pursuing cases on behalf of them and slapping fines on students based on the rhetoric of security and civility but not enough funds acknowledge departmental academic needs?
The fee hike, against all false accusations requires a serious conversation. Firstly, it would be imperative to remind the administration to look at the number of students for whom an education in this institution is nothing less than a new lease of life .The records and figures of the students dependent on scholarships, reservations and aids are with the administration. The VC and the university administration are aware of the meagre amount offered as scholarship and the proposed exorbitant fee. The function of a public university then no longer remains bridging the existing socio-economic gaps but unfortunately, widening.
Secondly, what is it that seems so threatening about this peaceful protest demanding the VC’s presence to talk about the fee hike, which requires the CRPF inside campus? This demonstrable drama and the VC’s continuous absence and the CRPF’s performative presence don’t add up either. The unfortunate time when a serial sexual offender was let loose on campus, students couldn’t call the police or the CRPF into campus, could they? It makes me wonder, why is it that the administration and those beyond these walls, so frightened of hearing what we have to say? I am increasingly beginning to believe that it is simply because the voice of the common student is blunt, honest and it makes sense.
JNU’s walls are etched with the spirit of active debate, discussion and deliberation. It is only straightforward to ask then- what do you make of your students beyond active or passive propaganda pawns? Are we not thinking minds? Aren’t we aware of the implications of the proposed changes?
While the entire campus has been rattled by the unconscionable fee hike, the VC was occupied organising an event titled ‘Brides of India’ at your residence inside campus. Seriously, what does it say about the administration which ceases to recognise problems with the immediate ICC, dismisses the GSCASH, slashes funds from the women’s studies department, making invisible every conversation about sexual harassment on campus, has zero concern about campus health and hygiene, proposes to morally regulate timings and clothing in hostels but organises an event captioned ‘Aayi Milan ki Bela- Brides of India’?
Thirdly, for a university built on foundations of liberal thought, progress and critical pedagogy, what does this say about the vision of a vice chancellor for the university and its students? Needless to mention, this is an event no student or staff identifies with. But what a lowly taunt must this be to those scholars, students and activists who’ve spent years moulding this university in progressive values. What a disgrace must such an event be to its students and scholars who spend sleepless nights fighting the unfreedom you infringe upon this university.
You’re not encouraging us, Mr. Vice-Chancellor. You are snatching away hope from thousands with this fee hike. The university has lately been an exhaustive tussle between education, affordability and mental health and these are essential strains every university ought to resolve but our administration seems to dismiss them.
This is a university which has made courageous, wonderful dreams from very difficult homes, possible. It has been the ethos and intent of public universities. The administration’s attempt to override reservations in every facet possible, including hostels, is the snatching away of that hope. The fee hike is the snatching away of that hope. The terming of the fee hike as ‘not massive’ reeks of privilege and not of hope.Hope is something no degree of bureaucratisation, targeting, snatching or threatening can take away. It stems from a trust and belief in what one is fighting for and as somebody once very wisely told me, “Trust is not event specific”. Hope, is not event specific.
Shreeja Banerjee is pursuing her M.Phil in Sociology at J.N.U.