On Monday, as Jawaharlal Nehru University was holding its convocation ceremony, thousands of students gathered at a gate to the premises to protest against a proposal to increase hostel fees, introduce curfew timings and impose a dress code.
A statement from the Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union claimed that the increased hostel fees were “whopping 999% more than the earlier one”. It added that more than 40% of the institution’s students had a yearly income that fell below the poverty line.
Students said that a draft hostel manual that was circulated on October 4 showed that the hostel mess security deposit had been increased to Rs 12,000 from Rs 5,500. In addition, the authorities proposed to increase hostel fees from Rs 20 to Rs 600 for a single room, and from Rs 10 to Rs 300 for a shared room. Students would also have to pay Rs 1,700 for maintenance services.
Students also alleged that the administration did not consult them before preparing the draft of the manual. They also claimed that Vice Chancellor M Jagadeesh Kumar had failed to meet them since they started objecting to the plan nearly two weeks ago.
On Monday, the road leading to the convocation venue was cordoned off by barricades. The students began to their protest at around 8 am. At around 3.30 pm, the police used water cannons to disperse them.
Joint Commissioner of Police Anand Mohan refused to disclose the number of police personnel deployed in the area. “There is sufficient force deployed,” he told Scroll.in.
Scroll.in spoke to five students from Jawaharlal Nehru University about their demands. Here is what they said:
Sanjeev Mishra, 28
Mishra who hails from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh said that he would have to stop his studies at the university if the hostel fee increase is implemented. He is vision-impaired and is doing an undergraduate degree in German.
“My financial condition is not sound to complete the course,” said Mishra, whose family survives on the Rs 10,000 pension his father receives as a retired railway employee. His mother is a homemaker.
“I also get the MCM [merit-cum-means] scholarship [from the government] but if they increase the hostel fees then I will not be able to pay it,” said Mishra. The scholarship of Rs 2,000 is for students whose family income is less than Rs 12,000.
The 28-year-old is the first member of his family to have pursued graduate studies. “This university is my spirit,” he said. “I have learnt so much from everyone on the campus.”
Ashutosh Kumar, 19
Ashutosh Kumar, who is in the middle of an undergraduate course in Russian, said that he too would have to leave the university if the fee increases were implemented. “I will not be able to afford it because my father works as a daily wager and earns only around Rs 12,000,” said Kumar.
Besides, Kumar said that the proposed curfews would shorten his study timings. “Most of us are tired after classes and we use the night to sit in the library and study,” he said.
For Kumar, the possibility of leaving the university is an opportunity loss. “I wanted to go abroad with my degree because there are so many opportunities here,” he said. “We came here because it is the best university with the best faculty and so cheap but what can I do if it gets snatched from me.”
Sukriti Sharma, 23
Sukriti Sharma, who is pursuing her Phd in politics, said that the plan to impose curfew timings was aimed at disciplining students.
“At night, both male and female students are out and it is very safe for us,” said Sharma, who lives in South Delhi. She also said that curfews would hamper public meetings and talks that students hold at night after classes are over.
Sharma claimed that the vice chancellor did not meet the students despite repeated requests. “We are here to register our dissent against these issues and the vice chancellor is a stooge of the government,” she said.
She said that the planned increases could hurt her fellow students, even though she would be able to afford to continue her studies. “This hike will also mean that students from marginalised backgrounds will not be able to make it to the university,” Sharma said.
Aarti Rani Prajapati, 29
Aarti Rani Prajapati has been student at the university since 2013 and is currently pursuing her Phd on 16th century women writers in Braj, Awadhi, Dingal and Pingal. Prajapati said that the protests against the fee increases started nearly two weeks ago as students attempted to convey their concerns to the vice chancellor.
“He did not speak to us which is why we are here today,” she said.
As a resident of Delhi, the proposed curfew on the library would hurt her more than the increase in hostel fees.
“We have a culture of studying till late in the night and they want to end it,” she said.
As a Phd student, Prajapati also receives a stipend of Rs 31,000 from the university every month which keeps her research afloat. But the funds have reached her irregularly for a few months.
“Students here do not have resources so they are dependent upon the university,” she said. “We never had curfew timings earlier and these barriers are being added now.”
The fee hike also means that students will have to pay for sanitation and maintenance services and Wi-Fi connections.
“We never paid any of this earlier,” said Vidhi, a student from Karnal, Haryana, who is pursuing her masters in linguistics. She also receives a merit-cum-means scholarship of Rs 2,000 per month.
The proposed fee increase will hurt her. “I will not be able to sustain my course here in the long run,” she said. “I will have to take up a job and I know so many others who will quit their studies.”
Vidhi said that this was a “do or die situation” for many students. “We are not ready to bear the consequences of this which is why every common student without any political affiliation is here today,” she said. “People come here from all backgrounds so that they can change their fate but the fee hike will change that.”
Vidhi declined to be photographed.