It was a quiet morning on February 21, 2018. The TISS campus at Guwahati was just preparing itself for its first round of campus placements. A small crowd was starting to gather in front of the main administrative building. It swelled by and by, and the campus reverberated with the sound of “Awaaz do hum ek hain” (everybody say that we’re one).
Since then, along with Guwahati, the other TISS campuses at Hyderabad, Mumbai and Tuljapur have been on a continued protest, together. The immediate concern was the arbitrary removal of the GOI-PMS (Government of India-Post Matric Scholarship) which enables students from the most marginalised and historically oppressed backgrounds to come and receive a quality education at TISS. But from thereon, the issue has become more diverse as long, pent-up frustrations, with all that is wrong in the higher education system today, coming to the fore. A full blown student’s resistance is staring defiantly on the face of modern India’s conscience. And this is not happening in isolation. The repercussions could be huge.
India is witnessing a neo-liberal onslaught. The greatest casualties in this have been public universities and dissent. The strategy seems two-pronged, and they seem to serve each other rather well. The motive of profiting is just one angle, and this can be easily seen. The other angle is pointed at throttling voices that differ.
The tendency is to privatise education to the maximum extent so that it becomes another high end, inaccessible commodity. Exclude, seclude, and ostracise those who question and those who cannot afford. Do this subtly through one policy followed by another in a cold, calculated manner. After all, who are most likely to question the status quo? It is not them who have the plate of privileges served right at their beds, ready in the mornings. It is those who have to fight tooth and nail for one piece of grain.
How does it feel to enter one of the elite night-time cinema complexes? Does one feel the same excitement and natural urge to banter with an old friend who happened to cross one’s path there, as one would have done say, at a good old public school auditorium? A good amount is paid for the ticket, spotless tiles reflect your image, and you tend to behave in the most ‘appropriate’ manner possible, lest you want to risk ‘classist’ embarrassment or ouster. The bottom line is control. The analogy might seem far-fetched, but this is exactly what is sought to be done by moving higher education in the realm of the private. Pay exorbitant fees, make no trouble, and exit with a job, and lo, success! No student would want to not take full advantage in lieu of the hefty sum that is paid. Questioning the authorities would be a rare exercise. This is especially favourable in traditional Indian culture where the relationship between guru-shishya (teacher-student) is deified.
The protest at TISS across the four campuses has entered its eighth day. Some empathetic faculty members have also come forward to extend solidarity. The contractual nature of their work leaves them at the wishy-washy mercy of those who call the shots. A strategy is at work to dismantle affirmative action and scholarly dedication of students and teachers alike. A raw student’s movement is holding its own, in-spite of immense risk to personal careers. However, this has happened because the stakes are much higher than that. Education cannot be another playing field of discrimination. It is about time that students at TISS and across the country ensure that.
The writer is a student at TISS Guwahati.