The protests that started as a result of a mammoth fee hike announced by the Birla Institute of Technology (BITS) took substantive shape on Sunday when students peacefully protested in prominent locations across the country.
On July 1, 2018, the student body of BITS, Pilani, through a Facebook post, had called for nationwide protests. As per the press release, the protest was to be held in Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Aurangabad, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Indore, Bhopal and Rourkela.
To bring you up to speed, the nationwide protests on July 1 were to protest against the exorbitant 15% hike in the fees structure to 1, 59,000 per semester, as per communication received on May 5, 2018.
This resulted in around 3000 students staging protests in the campus and at the iconic clock tower demanding the rollback of the proposed fee hike. With no substantive reply from the authorities, they continued these protests amidst their ongoing examinations, studying in torch lights during the night, but relentlessly pursuing the cause. When, after several meetings with the authorities, they were promised a genuine audience and solutions, they halted the protests forming a human chain in the shape of the clock tower, signifying their dedication towards the institution, but also symbolic of their solidarity in defending their cause.
In the next few weeks, instead of their problems being redressed, the guardians of some of these students were sent emails to ask their wards to refrain from disciplinary breaches; and, the college also sent show-cause notices to some students. Contradictory to the promised assurances of putting the fee hike on hold till an amicable resolution of the dispute was found, the college authorities, reiterated their “private” status in yet another email, calling the demand of “no fee-hike” as being out of the question.
As a result, the student body of BITS across the three campuses in Pilani, Goa and Hyderabad, called for nationwide protests in major cities across the country, and especially outside Birla’s house, the supreme decision-making entity of BITS Pilani.
The main protests were to be staged outside the house of Kumar Mangalam Birla in Mumbai but because the necessary police permissions couldn’t be procured, the venue was changed to Aditya Birla Group’s headquarters in Worli. The students’ request to be granted permission to protest outside the office was to no avail. “I tried seeking permission, but they told me to come the next day, that is on the day of the protest. And when we went there (to Worli) next day, the police asked us to leave as we weren’t allowed to protest. We also got to know that they had been informed since the past few days and that might be a reason for not giving permissions to us. We didn’t push it further and assured them of no protest and posters, but just letters of communication to be given to Birla. We sat down and wrote letters to Mr Birla requesting his intervention, addressing our concerns and seeking an appointment to present the students’ and alumni perspective. Thereafter, we submitted the letters to the Chief Security Officer there”, says Sidhartha Namburi, a student representative who also received the show cause notice for staging protests.
Their next course of action is to wait for a response from the Chancellor’s office. “I have again confirmed today July 2, 2018), and the letters have been handed over to the Chancellor’s assistant.” The purpose of the protest was served in them being able to communicate to Birla. “We await his response and will try and continue new methods of putting our concerns across in the next few days. Our next goal is to make them invest it in the right way, that can solve the issue rather than escalating it”, adds Namburi.
The protests went well in other parts of the country, as well.
“We were about 30 people, including students of all years and alumni members. We gathered outside BM Birla Planetarium in Jaipur, because of the relevance of the name. We protested and sloganeered for an hour or two with slogans of the likes of #WeAreBack, #BirlaJiSpeakUp . The protest went really well”, said Ashutosh Iyer*, who was a part of the student-led protests in Jaipur.
Talking about the protests in Hyderabad, Sukriti Tandon* says, “We were a gathering of around 20 people. We gathered near People’s Plaza. We staged a silent protest for about 30-40 minutes, with posters and placards.”
“We were a big crowd of around 80 people, with more people support in spirit. We gathered in Southern Park for about two hours and sloganeered #BirlaJiSpeakUp. The protest went as planned and we showed solidarity”, says a student who protested in Bangalore.
As they await a response from the high command of BITS Pilani, there are some things to ponder about. The private nature of the institution provides it with the academic and financial freedom to work towards the greater goal of imparting quality education. But, should that freedom come at the cost of altering students’ chances to an affordable education?
“We didn’t want a proper protest. We don’t want to spoil the name of the institution. We want discussion and understanding,” says Namburi.
The above sentiment has been established in every message that has been circulated to call for support against the fee hike. “There are some things that are not being communicated; the connecting link between the administration and the Chancellor are aware of only one side of the story. And that’s all we want – for them to know the other side, the perspective of the students”, adds Namburi.
The students await a response and action in furtherance of their cause soon.