The setting sun on May 5, 2018, saw BITS Pilani release the proposed fee structure for the students wishing to join the university in the 2018-19 session. The proposed tuition fees for the incoming batch was revealed to be ₹1,59,000 per semester.
Later that evening, a group of students assembled in one of the hostels to discuss the issue of the escalating fees. More and more students joined them – and soon, the meeting had nearly 120 attendees. A few representatives stayed up through the night and raised this issue to almost all the 4000-plus students on the campus. They were soon joined by the other sister campuses in these efforts. The stage had been set and all the players were in position. All the students unanimously decided to go on a peaceful protest from the next day, May 6.
On May 6, more than 3,000 students took to the roads at 11 AM to protest against the fee hike by the administration. The height of anguish was evident from the fact that all the students are currently sitting for their end-semester examinations. Yet, they did not even flinch for a moment at the thought of a protest. As all these students assembled in front of the Clock Tower, the Central Auditorium was thrown open to all the protesters by the student union.
The most important demand of the students was very simple – a ‘rollback’ of the proposed fee-hike. The student representatives demanded an audience with the highest authority of the campus – the director. The voice of 2,000 students shouting slogans was more than enough to make the administration concede to this demand. The director addressed the student community before answering a set of questions presented to him by the student representatives.
However, the interaction with the director left the students unsatisfied and they registered their grievances with intense shouting within the auditorium. The director promised to take the issue up with his superiors but he could not assure the students of any guaranteed change. According to him, there were people higher up in the chain who needed to be consulted. As a result, the students were left with no option but to demand the presence of the vice-chancellor (VC), who was out of station but was set to return in three hours. The crowds continued to stay within the auditorium through the entire time.
The words of the vice-chancellor too failed to convince the 3,000 students in the crowd. When quizzed, certain sections of the crowd pointed out that the statements made by the VC promised no future progress or changes. Furious at the lack of action, the crowd followed the VC to V-FAST, the institution’s guest house and the temporary residence of the VC. The students campaigned through the night, waiting for a response. Some even claimed that the ‘good old days’ were back as many of the protesting students prepared for the next day’s examination under the streetlights!
The agitations continued through the next day, as the students sitting for their exams were ably backed up by their counterparts from the other batches who continued the protest. The same footpaths saw close to 500 students peacefully assemble and wait for a statement from the authorities. One of the student representatives made it clear that the objective was to sustain the immense pressure they had generated the previous day – which saw us climb to the top of the trending charts on Twitter – and make the administration fully understand their demands. No conclusions emerged from the negotiations with the professors of the institute who expressed their concerns about the students’ health, considering the fact that the temperature reached 40 degree celsius.
During the afternoon, the police arrived at V-FAST to inspect and make sure that the situation was peaceful. They agreed to allow the students to continue their struggle and urged the representatives to maintain decorum throughout. While they were satisfied with the conduct of the students, the road-block imposed on the main road was a concern to them since it was a public road. The students discussed the matter among themselves and decided to remove the block. However, as matters stand right now, the protests are set to continue at the same location in the foreseeable future.
Note 1:-The students’ union is aware of certain personal attacks being made online against the director and the VC. We strongly condemn these actions and would like to affirm our utmost respect for the posts. We also strongly insist that the media doesn’t indulge in such activities.
Note 2:-We are aware of certain quotes flying around, regarding the Director allegedly saying that ‘if you can’t afford the fees, drop out of college’ and some variants of this. It must be made clear that the Director did NOT say this – and we implore the media to never fall prey to online trolls claiming this to be true.