The students’ protests at the North Eastern Regional Institute of Science and Technology in Arunachal Pradesh’s Capital Itanagar, demanding the appointment of a permanent director, forced the institute on a lockdown for fifth consecutive day on Saturday. The students have said they will continue to protest indefinitely.
The institution, which is funded by the Ministry of Human Resources Development, has been without a regular director since October 2014. Arunachal Pradesh Education Minister Honchun Ngandam visited the institute on Friday assuring the students that NERIST will get a director soon. “HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar informed me that a director will join by Monday”, the minister has said.
Four of the many of students who were on a hunger strike have been hospitalised. The students have now started a relay-hunger strike.
“Unless we actually receive the appointment letter, we are not going to call off the agitation,” said Banta Natung, the president of the Students’ Union of the institute. “NERIST is a no-go zone for the politicians. Those who have dared to venture into the institution have been booed.”
Banta said politicians will only be allowed to meet the agitating students once the appointment of the new director comes through.
In October 2017, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju had promised the students that a director will be appointed in a month. On Thursday, Rijiju, a minister from Arunachal Pradesh, is believed to have written to Javadekar informing him of the situation at the institute. The students on Friday burnt effigies of Javadekar and Rijiju.
Banta said around 15 research scholars have left the institute in the last four years. “There is no encouragement to do better or innovative research. I am not sure if I will do my PhD here,” he said.
Various other students organisations, including the Rajiv Gandhi University Students’ Union and Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union, have joined the protest. The AAPSU has said that institutions of higher education across the state will be closed on March 5 in solidarity with the students of NERIST.
Several social media users, including teachers, have lent support to the students using #saveNERIST on Twitter. “We know journalists and politicians use Twitter, so we started the campaign under #saveNERIST,” a student said.
Congress MP Ninong Ering also joined the protest on Twitter calling on the Centre to take note of the students’ agitation. Ering said he would bring this up in Parliament.