A few days back, something very important went unnoticed in the news.
In 2016, JNU admitted 1174 students into their MPhil programmes. In 2017, JNU witnessed an 83% seat cut bringing this number to 194. Thousands of students from around the country (4000 of them in JNU itself) are competing for 194 seats. That makes the pool competing for limited seats, far wider.
Yet, hardly, anyone seems to be bothered. On the day the news came out, there was a cultural night on campus, with music and dance. On the very same day, students were protesting at the university gate and were forcefully pushed aside by the guards following orders from JNU administration.
I have a friend, from a humble background. She got into JNU because of 10 marks as part of the deprivation points system, just like me – five points for being a woman and five points for being from a rurally backward district. But for the last few days, I haven’t seen her crack a smile.
Since the only way to become emancipated as a woman in this country is through education, these five points could make her life. Well, from this year on, there will not be any deprivation points for women.
While sitting in protest, a friend said (in disgust, after being shouted at, by a passerby for blocking the university gate), “This university is playing with our lives and these people are telling us, we are causing trouble by protesting.”
It was disheartening but there is no other way to voice out problems.
Women, ST/SC students, students from a rural background and students from the financially weaker section, basically everyone who is not an upper class, upper caste, wealthy male student.
Being a central university, JNU was the only hope for students from underprivileged communities to be able to receive an affordable quality education. To pursue higher studies is a very bold decision for people who are not financially well off because there is no income for many initial years. That is why most students depend on the Junior research fellowship (JRF) scholarship. To attain a JRF, students have to clear the National Eligibility Test (NET). The recent seat cut has put a lot of students who cleared NET/JRF exam last year in a very difficult position because this scholarship can only be availed if you are enrolled in the institute within 2 years of clearing the exam.
When I first entered JNU two years back I remember freshers “being welcomed with a speech: “JNU is the only place where a child of an industrialist and a child of an autowala will study together, as equals.” With this seat cut and discarding of the deprivation points, JNU will no longer be the university that it is so proud of having become.
“Only children of privileged families will study in this university that was established for the poor. This step is a shame on the constitution of India that calls itself ‘socialist’,” says Deepak, an MA second-year student at JNU.
There are students who have fought all odds to come to JNU and study, because, let’s face it, education is a privilege.
Education is not for a Dalit boy – a first-generation learner and researcher, who got into JNU after trying for five years only to later kill himself because of the discrimination he faced.
Education is not for those girls, who ran away from home to study at JNU, while doing a night shift job because now will have to go home and be forced into marriage (that’s me!).
Education is not for that Hindi-speaking boy from a remote village, in this English speaking education system, because this time when he goes home this crop season to help his father in the field, he will not have a reason to come back.
Hundreds of such stories that have come to light because of this development.
When JNU will not have a quota for women, we will lose one of those few universities where the ratio of female to male students is in favour of women in higher education. Everywhere else the number of girls in public education system decreases with the increase in level but not at JNU.
Secondly, when JNU changes its 80:20* admission policy, it will no longer be the most inclusive public university.
If it loses the quota for students from rural backgrounds then it will never reach its goal – India’s best public university in the direction of ‘emancipation of Indian society from the social evil through education’.
What seems like a little inconvenience to many people and the JNU administration is the victory of social evil over education, because, let’s face it – in India, education is a privilege.
* 80 marks for the entrance exam and 20 for the interview. Students from backward districts and women get deprivation points and ST/SC/OBC get a quota in the written exam and not in the interview. From 2017, JNU plans to change this system to 100 percent interview, with the entrance exam as qualifying, making the admission system effectively discriminating against from the mentioned sections of students.
Soniya Ahuja is an intern with Youth Ki Awaaz for the batch of February-March 2017.