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What Universities Across India Have To Say About The Seat Cut In MPhil And PhD Programs

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The unilateral imposition of the University Grants Commission (Minimum Standards and Procedure for Award of MPhil/PhD Degrees) Regulations, 2016, is creating chaos in campuses across India. While there was no news of the notification being compulsory to implement earlier, the Delhi High Court has reportedly said that it is binding on all varsities. The notification is problematic as it has rigid admission rules and eligibility criteria for M.Phil. and Ph.D. aspirants. To be precise, it can have catastrophic effects because of two reasons.

a) A clause in the notification prescribes that the written exam will be a qualifying round after which the admission will depend solely on the viva voce or the interview. The interview has been proven to be discriminatory in nature.

b) A cap on the number of students that can be mentored by each supervisor. Since there was no such cap earlier, supervisors now have more students to mentor than what’s prescribed in the notification. Hence, the intake will drastically cut down and so will the amount of research work done in a university.

For instance, in Jawaharlal Nehru University, seats in MPhil/PhD courses have been cut down from 1,048 last year to just 130 this year. Implementation of this notification will impair JNU’s socially inclusive admission procedure. The notification gained attention with students and faculty of the college resisting the mandate fiercely with regular protests, hunger strikes and legal action as well.

They have met with the President of India, and will also be approaching the Supreme Court. Nivedita Menon, Chairperson of the Centre for Comparative Politics & Political Theory, JNU, told Campus Watch that they are in continuous conversation with the Vice Chancellor. She said, “Ad-hoc teachers might not be in a capacity to lead a protest or speak up for that matter, but we permanent members are leading a very strong resistance movement.”

While the notification will drastically alter the scope of academia in our nation, it is being portrayed as an issue exclusive to JNU. It’s even tougher for other universities since most of them do not have the kind of student-teacher unity that JNU does. Therefore, we tried to understand how universities across the country are affected by this notification.

“Although we render ideological clashes with JNU sometimes, we stand parallel to resist the notification,” says Faizul Hasan, President of Aligarh Muslim University’s student union. He condemns the clause and perceives it to be a politically motivated move to push marginalised sections to the periphery. He along with many students of AMU are strongly against the clause and think that it will harm inclusivity in campus spaces.

The notification has been received with affirmative nods by administration departments and has resulted in clashes between the students and administrations of universities all over the country. “The admin outrightly denies discussing, therefore favoring the circular. If the administration is not looking after the welfare of the students, then who will?” says a faculty member from Hyderabad Central University.

“I wanted to pursue historical studies from JNU, but now with the reduction of seats, it seems impossible. They want to target our ideologies and suppress our thoughts, that’s why seats for Geography and Economics remain intact while we are made to suffer from other disciplines like historical studies and English that forward questioning,” says Sabika Abbas Naqvi, an activist and a student of Delhi University, who strongly feels that this will privatise education and venture a space exclusive for upper castes. While a majority of the faculty members of DU are openly protesting against the implementation of the circular, ad-hoc teachers seem reluctant to take a stand. This is understandable since it has been alleged time and again that the university exploits their ad-hoc teachers and provides them with no job security.

Pondicherry University is witnessing resistance from the students’ body, but there’s a dearth of participation by faculty members. According to a professor of the University, many faculty members are also reluctant to openly protest since it will be easier to deal with a lesser number of students. K. Sivachandiran, a student from PU, puts his argument forward by saying, “The state knows very well that education is the basic philosophy behind all kinds of developments. And this is the main reason why the UGC has (taken a decision) to cut down the seats.” He thinks that the government has a Brahmanical approach to the educational sector.

Sayak Das, the general secretary of Sikkim University’s student union, said that he supports the notification for he believes viva voce is a parameter to judge a student’s true calibre. He told Campus Watch, “I don’t know about metropolitan cities and how discriminatory vivas would get, but I believe able students would surpass vivas anyway.”

Although JNU falls at the centre of this pitfall, it manages to get its voice heard almost every time they face a problem. This brings us to the statuses of many small universities, which simply succumb to such provisions because they don’t get as much attention from the media. Moreover, attempts aren’t made to make students aware of new rules either. Hence, even if they would want to, students can’t resist the notification or even stand in solidarity with those who are affected by it.

For instance, according to a student of Punjab University, the University is witnessing a strong wave of protests as their fee has been hiked because of the erratic grant of funds by the government. There’s little conversation about the UGC notification in the University even though it might affect them adversely too.

Maulana Azad National Urdu University is also facing turbulence. A student of the University told Campus Watch that the admin with the support from the Vice Chancellor has the power to implement the notification against the wishes of students and faculty members. So, the students are planning to protests against various issues – fee hike, seat cuts, raising demands for a supplementary exam procedure, and construction of hostels. Bavajan, a research student at MANUU, told Campus Watch, “Seats in MPhil have been reduced from 96 to 48 this year. There are 900 hostel seats for 3500 students in the university. Due to commercialization, private hostels and PGs are unaffordable for outstation students, and it’s disappointing to see how the university is not investing adequately despite its large fund backing.”

To conclude, I’d like to quote what a JNU professor told me when I was inquiring about the notification, “The right-wing government stand alone should not exercise insurmountable authority to let students suffer as such. Our academic spaces should let dissent proliferate, for democratic functioning and unrestricted freedom of speech.”

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Image source: Burhaan Kinu, Hindustan Times/Getty Images
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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