JNU crisis

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Two wrongs do not make a right. Bringing in CRPF personnel in huge numbers and use of brutal force against students including water cannons inside the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University campus to quell protests by students last week, who were raising their voice against unjustified curbs and fee hike. While the actions of the university administration have been extremely stringent, such brutal actions are unfortunate. The apathy with which the demands of the students have been met for over two weeks, allowing things to come to such a pass itself makes the university authorities culpable of neglect. The crisis appears to see no end as hundreds of JNU students took to the streets on Monday to demand a full rollback of the hostel fee hike. According to reports at least 50 JNU students were detained by Delhi Police Monday afternoon (later released) as hundreds of students marched to Parliament chanting anti-fee hike slogans and carrying posters and placards, forcing authorities to impose prohibitory orders both outside the parliament building and around the JNU campus. It may be mentioned that Parliament began the first day of the winter session today. The point is instead of pushing the students towards adopting a confrontationist path; the authorities should have engaged the students into negotiations before the situation went out of control. Universities are free spaces that impart not just academic training but also provide a liberal space for intellectual engagement, extra-curricular activities and promote free exchange of ideas and values. By that logic, the decisions of the JNU administration are extremely imposing and arbitrary as duly elected students council too has not been taken into confidence while hiking up the fees exorbitantly 150 times. JNU is one of the most premier higher education institutes of the country which is funded by the state and the aim of keeping fee structure at a nominal was to encourage meritorious students from poor income families to avail of the opportunity. In view of the increasing inflationary trends, it may not be entirely unjustifiable to hike up the fees but there has to be a proportionate and nominal hike, not a sudden leap. According to protesting students and the JNU Students’ Union the hike and additional fees will directly hit 40% of economically marginalised students in the university. The students have opposed many clauses of the hostel manual draft, which the administration announced some weeks ago. The main concerns are the exorbitant mess fee hike, individual installation of electricity and water meters for hostel rooms and a monthly service charge of Rs 1,700, which could be hiked at a later date. After last week’s protests the fees were rolled back, albeit only partially. Steep hike in the fee structure will definitely make some of the students discontinue their studies in the prestigious institution. Added to the list of charters is also the diktat for what has been described as ‘appropriate’ dress code for students and implementation of curfew timings for hostel residents. Such decisions aim to weaken the liberal spirit of the institution and violate the basic rights of the students. Many of them spend late night hours studying in the libraries or participate in discussions with other students late into the night. These trends are part of any healthy academic activity campus. Many students, from poorer economic sections, are also engaged as part time workers in and outside the campus and a night curfew would further violate their rights and restrict their abilities to learn in a healthy and open environment. The recent decisions of the JNU authorities indicate that every attempt is being made to make higher education exclusive to the elite classes and keep the poor deprived through various ways as well as to change and alter the liberal character of the campus. If indeed, the authorities felt that there was a sound reason and logic behind the move, the students should have been taken into confidence through their duly elected council. Even after the first simmering of protest began, it was the moral responsibility of the authorities to enter into a conciliation with the students. The brute arrogance with which the JNU administration has dealt with students’ anger – abject apathy followed by display of brute power – is unacceptable. While it lowers the prestige of the institution, it sets a wrong precedent of treating students with disdain.