For the last few days, the ministry of human resources and development has been inundated with postcards of protest sent by students from universities across the country. They all carry the same message, albeit worded differently: students should not be treated like guinea pigs.

On Tuesday, some of these students decided to take their protest to the streets as they marched to Jantar Mantar and demonstrated against the implementation of the Central Universities Act as well as the University Grants Commission's latest prescription of a Credit Based Choice System, which is often cited as a close cousin of the controversial Four-Year Undergraduate Programme.

By afternoon, more than 300 students had already gathered at Jantar Mantar Road before they marched to the protest site, as slogans of “Smriti Irani, Go Back!” and “Irani hatao, democracy lao (Remove Irani, bring democracy)” began to ring from the long human chain formed by the demonstrators.

Even as the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union played a lead role in organising the protests, students from many smaller universities and college were also in attendance to raise a voice for their own issues.

Credit based system

“The credit based system is going to turn our university into a school with mixed streams and no objectives,” said Norbu Dorma, a student from the University of Delhi. “Students from the four year undergraduate programme are still suffering. There are no teachers for existing honours courses, how can students be burdened with this khichdi of no relevance?"

Another student from the Allahabad University said he was shocked to learn that the state of education is not much different across universities. “Delhi University’s model of education was presented as the best possible roadmap to us and we were convinced,” said Rishi Kumar while speaking to Scroll. “Classes don’t happen, there’s no infrastructure and yet a new ‘radical’ system like FYUP is going to be forced on us instead of fixing the present system.”

This comes in the backdrop of widespread protests organised by the Delhi University Teachers’ Association in the last few days which has been holding protests regularly both at the UGC and the university premises too.

Campus democracy

Students from the JNU wore black headbands to protest against the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations of 2006 that have been often touted as the answer to ‘money and muscle power’ in the student elections but have proved unsuccessful. These recommendations prescribe a bar based on  the age, number of criminal cases and election expenditure for candidates seeking to contest university elections.

These recommendations were embraced by University of Delhi but JNU continued protesting till it was allowed some exemptions in the year 2012 when the elections took place for the first time after the Supreme Court had stayed elections in JNU citing violations of the recommendations in 2008.

Many present at the protest echoed the sentiment that these recommendations have not strengthened but killed campus politics. “It is a direct attack on our freedom to organise student movement,” said Komal Mehra, an activist with All India Students Association. “The efforts have failed in DU and we should not continue with a failed system.”

The students are demanding that the ministry should review the recommendations which bar those with criminal cases from contesting. “This is a way to keep the influential candidates who have borne the brunt of police and administrative crackdown from contesting elections and actually changing things,” said Ashutosh Kumar, President, JNUSU.

Central Universities Act

While the protesters had varied grievances, what united them was their opposition to the proposed Central Universities Act which seeks to regulate central universities through a common set of rules and procedures, with the provision of transferability of faculty and a centralised recruitment process.

“It is the work of Modi-led Hindutva brigade which is trying to commercialise education,” said a protester who didn’t want to be named. “They are turning institutions of historical importance into their propaganda centres which can be easily dictated. The syllabus is going to be common and they might repeat the ugly episode of systematically rewriting the narrative.”

Terming it as  a “draconian assault” by the Sangh brigade, the JNUSU goes on to argue: “Modi’s slogan of ‘achche din’ has unfolded itself with calculated attacks on every avenue of public-funding quality education and stable dignified employment.”