The massive protest demonstration on February 3rd at the ad-block called by JNUSU has sent a clear message to the authoritarian JNU administration that anti-student policies, including the ongoing privatization drive in the campus in the name of ‘resource-generation’, must immediately stop. While installing of electric meters in the rooms of Koena hostel, a sharp increase in the price of the JNU prospectus, renting of the PSR, making of OBC reservation conditional to ‘availability of infrastructure’, curtailment in dhaba timings were some of the immediate demands, the students also collectively expressed their anger against bypassing of the student community in decision-making, and imposition of policies that go against the grain of JNU as a socially-sensitive and responsible institution. Taking full advantage of the supreme court stay on JNUSU elections, the administration has intensified its efforts to make JNU a corporate-friendly university, in the unfounded expectation that there will be no resistance from the students. The administration is introducing anti-student polices one after another in quick succession, and has once again challenged the student community to take up the responsibility of defending what JNU stands for: a democratic, inclusive and socially responsible education that upholds the spirit of criticality and non-conformism in thought.
The intensification of the privatisation drive in the campus: The students’ movement of JNU has fought attempts at privatisation and corporatisation of campus spaces in the past, the successful struggle against Nestle in 2004-05 and Tata funding in the School of Arts and Aesthetics in 2007 being recent examples. Past attempts at fee hike was also fought and won. However, this does not mean that the campus have remained immune to the larger policies of Liberalisation, Privatisation and imperialist Globalisation. Crores of rupees are being invested by corporate houses in the science centres of JNU to facilitate market-oriented research. Highly expensive courses such as the Global Studies Programme in CSSS have been introduced which are sponsored by multinationals like BMW and Mackenzie. Ford Foundation has provided funds for setting up and running the Centre for Law and Governance. Corporates like Mahindra and others have come to JNU for recruitment, and curriculums of many centres have been changed to cater to the needs of the market.
These are only a few examples from our campus how privatisation and corporatisation is being implemented in higher education. Today higher education remains accessible to only a few who can afford to pay hefty fees for technical courses in IITs, IIMs, engineering, medical and media institutes and so on, be it public or private. ‘Merit’ is not a criterion of admission for those who can pay large capitation fees and buys degrees in the market. Even in neighbouring DU colleges, the yearly fees have become highly prohibitive for a majority of the students from weak economic and social backgrounds. The fact that fees in JNU have remained low and thus affordable in some ways to the deprived classes, is because of the progressive students’ movement which have struggled against the logic of the market to uphold a democratic and inclusive education. With the onslaught of neo-liberal policies of the state, this too has come under attack. The days are not far when the administration will introduce a steep increase in the tuition fees and hostel rents etc. with the argument that the university needs to generate its own resources. The administration has tried to justify the electric meters in Koena hostel by arguing that most of the students get scholarships, and hence should bear a portion of the cost of education and facilities they receive.
Privatisation in the campus is taking place at many levels. Not only is the PSR being rented out or auditoriums made open for commercial use, even the essential services in the campus are also being made contractual where private companies such as Group 4 is in charge of campus security, Chase is providing library workers and lab assistants, Vayudoot is employing workers for gardening, garbage collection and electrical works, Garima is running messes in Chandrabhaga, Lohit and Mahi-Mandvi hostels, and so on. Much like the students who come from economically and socially weaker sections of the society are being denied the right to higher education, the workers are also denied their basic work-related rights under the privatized regime.
Attempts to scuttle 27% OBC Reservation: The rights and opportunities of the marginalised sections to education in campuses like JNU are being further jeopardized by the scuttling of OBC reservations even after it becoming the law of the land. Last year when after a protracted battle –both inside and outside the court– 27% OBC reservation got a go ahead, the JNU administration subverted it by a drastic reduction of seat cuts, and ensuring that a mere 9% students could take admission under the provisions of the act. Even though the administration assured that this year the full quota of 27% would be fulfilled, it has been again made conditional to ‘infrastructure’. Making the provision of 54% seat increase conditional on OBC reservation itself was a ploy to prolong and scuttle the implementation of reservation, and this year too the same logic of inability to increase seats have been used by administration. Whereas funds are in no short supply to be lavishly spent on needless extravagance in the name of ‘campus beautification’ and putting up of expensive gadgets and furniture all around, lack of funds is the excuse for not providing the necessary infrastructure to accommodate new students. This design to put hurdles on OBC reservation, along with that of PH category reservation has to be defeated, and we must ensure that the full quota of OBC and PH category reservation is fulfilled this year, without any reduction in the overall seats offered. The present agitation under the leadership of JNUSU must be intensified in order to force the administration for the full implementation of reservation policy in letter and spirit.
Authoritarian JNU administration: Even after the massive demonstration of the students, the administration in its discussions with the JNUSU has not shown any sign of genuinely addressing the demands. Disregarding the collective opinion of the student community the administration refused to remove the electric meters in Koena hostel, and in fact is contemplating its installment in other hostels as well. The decision to rent PSR has only been temporarily set aside, and it has declined to reduce the price of the prospectus. Despite repeated demands, the administration has not committed to implement 27% OBC reservation by this year. In all, the administration has yielded very little to the demands of the student community, and has only come up with vague and temporary assurances. This leaves the students with no other option than to further intensify the ongoing agitation by forging a unity of struggle and uncompromisingly fight for our legitimate rights.
The administration feels emboldened by the stay on the JNUSU elections and making this an excuse has been acting in an authoritarian manner. The JNUSU and the student community have been kept out of decision-making, thus trampling on the democratic rights which have been achieved through years of struggle. Meetings of Academic Council and various committees such as the Campus Development Committee are being held without any student representation, which has allowed the administration to impose its decisions on us. Previously unheard-of committees have suddenly sprung up, which are taking unilateral decisions pertaining to campus life. The administration must be confronted and their undemocratic decisions have to be rejected at every step, and be made accountable for its misdeeds as well as anti-student policies. This struggle is at the same time a part of the struggle to defend our democratic rights, the JNUSU and its constitution.
University for whom? It is not a coincidence that the supreme court stay and the phase of intensified privatisation has come at the same time. The administration feels that the student movement has been weakened by the onslaught of Lyngdoh. As the Birla-Ambani Report recognised students’ unions as the main hurdle to privatisation of education, the present VC too thinks that student politics, which has been the hallmark of JNU, is an impediment to the making of a ‘world-class’ university. In their scheme of a world-class university, the students will not have the right to raise demands and will have to bow to the decisions from above unquestioningly. No critique and resistance to the policies of the state will be tolerated, and no social concern or peoples’ issues will be addressed. In a world-class university, everything including education will be sold at the market price, ‘professionals’ will be produced for the industry. There will be no place for dissent, no place for opposition and alternatives. This is the essence of the world-class university which administration wants JNU to be, the same essence of the market and of imperialism.
JNU is not an island: Much like the oppressed classes of the country finds themselves at the receiving end of Indian state’s neo-liberal policies, and repressed through the use of violent force if they chose to resist them, the students too are faced with an onslaught on their basic rights, including the right to education. And at a time when an overwhelming majority of the peoples are facing an all out imperialist onslaught, how can a campus like JNU remain immune to this process? The same undemocratic and anti-people policies that are imposed elsewhere in the name of development are also being implemented in our campus with the same authoritarian manner. A Nestle outlet, electric meters, hike in the prospectus price, renting of campus spaces and facilities, Global Studies Programme, Posco scholarships or Ford sponsorship etc., all are manifestations of the same process. When we, as students, collectively stand against these policies in our campus, we also therefore strengthen the people’s resistance against the ongoing assault of privatization and imperialist plunder.