At least 43 students of Tata Institute of Social Science in Guwahati began an indefinite hunger strike on Monday, demanding that tuition fees, dining hall and hostel fees be waived for underprivileged students who want to join the institute from June.

Students of all four campuses of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences – in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Maharashtra’s Tuljapur and Guwahati – have been on strike since February 21 to protest against the institute’s decision to withdraw financial aid to students from the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes who are eligible for the Central government’s post-matriculation scholarships. The strike is supported by various student unions and TISS alumni.

“Without the fee waiver, the chance for these aspiring students to get admitted into the institute would become a distant dream,” the Government of India Post Matric Scholarship Students’ Association of TISS said in a statement on Monday. “We believe that this will further widen the gap of social disparities.”

The student body said a proposal made by the institute to waive fees for scholarship students made earlier in March – was specific to those who were enrolled in current batches.

The statement continued: “It is apparent that this move is utter negligence on the part of TISS administration for the future coming batches belonging to the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled
Tribe and Other Backward Classes students from poor backgrounds. This contradicts the vision that the institute claimed to endorse towards ‘social justice’.”

The agitators said it was a “black day for education” at an institute that aims to serve the poor and the marginalised, but had failed to do so by cutting students’ aid.

TISS proposes to waive fees for SC, ST students

On March 10, the administration proposed that the current Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students of the 2017-’20 and 2017-’19 batches be exempted from paying fees for their undergraduate and postgraduate courses while the Other Backward Classes (non-creamy layer) students will receive aid of up to Rs 12,000. TISS has, however, refused to waive the hostel and dining hall fees, which the students can pay in monthly installments.

TISS authorities have said a Joint Scholarship Committee will be formed in all campuses to look into the problems faced by students from socially backward classes. The committee will comprise students and faculty belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, along with some members of the students’ association.

HRD ministry demands report from TISS

The Ministry of Human Resources Development has directed the TISS administration to form a committee and submit a report with recommendations by the end of the month, The Times of India reported on Tuesday. The HRD ministry has asked the institute why the students have not called off the strike yet.

The committee will consist of acting director of TISS, a University Grants Commission official, nominee from the faculty, students’ representatives and alumni. The ministry has asked the committee to study if the institute faces any financial crunch, and will recommend solutions accordingly for future batches, The Times of India quoted an unidentified official as saying.

Corrections and clarifications: The article has been updated to reflect that the proposal was made on March 10 and not after hunger strike began in Guwahati as mentioned earlier.