The sound of the tambourine resonates in the background as students chatter and gather around the podium where six students who’re going on a hunger strike are seated. Soon the relentless sloganeering against the TISS administration begins. An array of emotions rush through them as frustrations and angst experienced for 3-4 odd years come out in that moment of unity. One could feel the frenzy in the crowd which was also marked by a general concern for the health of the students.
It was Day 7 of the university strike demanding social justice at the Hyderabad campus of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and the spirit of the students showed no signs of wavering, especially in light of the outrageous negligence shown by the Mumbai administration the previous day. These voices of dissent were strengthened by the solidarity shown by the teachers who addressed the gathering and pledged complete support. They said that this struggle was “long due” and that it was a proud moment for them to see their students fight for social justice, inclusion, and equality.
While some teachers termed it as a “learning experience” for them, others expressed their awe at the “courage, commitment and conviction” the students have displayed throughout the struggle. The crowd erupted with joy at each address. It was the first time in the history of TISS, Hyderabad that the faculty had come out openly in support of a protest – risking their jobs at the hands of the disciplinary committee.
But the line of support from within the institute does not end just here – even the maintenance staff and helpers at the institute see the protests as highly justified. This no longer remains a protest by merely the students. All of TISS is speaking through slogans and a charter of demands sent out to the Mumbai administration.
Linda, a student of MA (Development Studies) program, shares, “I joined TISS in 2014 into the Integrated BA-MA course. Being a GOI-PMS holder student from Mizoram, I could complete my BA through the total fee waiver program. But when they asked me to pay the entire tuition and hostel fee amount in the middle of my second semester of my MA, I was shocked. My sister who joined the BA (Social Sciences) program at TISS Tuljapur was asked to do the same. I have no idea what to do. Some of my friends have decided to take loans. I don’t think I can. I have my hopes pinned on this protest. I can’t believe they are going on a hunger strike now. If everything fails, I will drop out. I can’t possibly pay over Rs. 1 lakh for the course. I will find a job somewhere and fund my sister’s education. At least this way she will get her degree.”
She is but one of the many students who will be forced to drop out because of the callous attitude with which the administration has approached the scholarship issue. A fund cut to OBC (NC) students was announced in 2015, and the withdrawal of fees to SC/ST students was issued on May 26, 2017 by the Mumbai administration.
However, the administration in Hyderabad failed to convey the message to the batches here, and thus followed what the deputy director terms as a series of “miscommunications, misinterpretations and misunderstandings at the time of admission of the 2016-2018 and 2017-2019 M.A batches and 2015-18, 2016-19 and 2017-20 integrated BA course”.
The rollback of funds to public institutions is definitely a part of the bigger picture. As a TISS faculty member rightly pointed out that it’s the recent shift to a neo-liberal approach of privatising education and making it a profit-oriented venture which is making the whole process of higher education extremely inaccessible to the common public, especially the marginalised.
But is it not for us students to question and critique the functioning of the system? What the protests and boycott aimed to achieve was not only confined to the charter of demands that were put forward. It was to struggle and bring to the notice of the society at large – the oppressiveness and unjustness of the current system.
The students of TISS Hyderabad can proudly say that the seven days of struggle and perseverance did bear results. After 14 hours of negotiations between the Acting Director and the representatives of the Students Action Committee on February 27 and 28, 2018 – the Acting Director agreed to a majority of demands on the Hyderabad Charter of Demands. The boycott, however, continues with the same enthusiasm until the demands of all the four campuses are met.
To end with, here’s what a faculty member at TISS Hyderabad said: “The students’ struggle has shown us light. They have shown us hope.”