2018: #PinjraTod And 10 Other Protests That Gave Us A Glimpse Of Today’s Student Spirit

Education in itself is an act that cultures the idea of dissent and the idea of questioning the status quo, by asking students to be curious and urging them to be engineers of change.

Following this, it is not surprising that several histories of protests in India have had students at the forefront. Whether it be the anti-colonial movement, or more recent ones like the Lokpal Bill movement, or protests surrounding the Nirbhaya case, students have actively taken up the charge to lead.

The need for more forms of student activism is reflected in various kinds of protests over the past few years. This article aims to talk about a few such protests that managed to expose the working of college authorities across the country this year.

1. Although the protests at IIT Bombay in 2016 exposed the unaffordable side of higher education in India, 2018 saw a range of similar protests where students opposed the financial and budgetary changes made by various college administrations.

The foremost example was the series of protests seen by the students at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). In February, the university authorities at TISS announced a hike in dining and hostel fees for the students. Along with this measure, the administration also declared its withdrawal of the fee waiver for students belonging to Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBC). The students who were covered under the Government of India – Post Matric Scholarship (GoI–PMS) scheme were asked to pay increased amounts of fees which sparked the protests against the authorities.

2. In May, another university that saw pushback from its students regarding its revised fee structure was BITS Pilani. The institute that had already faced heat for its exorbitant fees for a while saw a range of sit-ins and marches in all of its three campuses in India – Pilani, Goa and Hyderabad. The various forms of protest were strictly aimed at the university’s idea of a constant 15% hike which had made it difficult for many students across various economic backgrounds to pay the fees.

3. Even after seeing a hike in exam fees in 2017, Mumbai University increased the fees for examinations, re-examinations and re-evaluations in February this year. The students, who labelled this hike in fees as sudden, also blamed the administration for poor infrastructure facilities and improper implementation of newer programs like the Choice-Based Credit System (CBCS).

4. Following the HRD Minister’s claim of providing around 60 institutions throughout the country with autonomous status, teachers’ and students’ associations from both DU and JNU took part in a series of protests throughout various colleges.

Labeling the move by the UGC as a step towards privatization, the protestors argued that a lot of institutions would not be able to sustain the financial pressure, and thus succumb to either budgetary cuts or to hike in their fees models, hence causing a problem the idea of equal education for everyone.

This protest was one of the foremost instances of incidents this year saw, where the teaching faculty of a university itself decided to stand up to a change in the institute’s administrative workings.

Students and teachers of central universities participating in protest march from Mandi House to Parliament Street against the UGC move granting full autonomy to select higher educational institutes. (Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

 

5. Another series of protests was seen quite recently at SRM University Chennai, where a second-year undergraduate student was allegedly harassed by a man on hostel premises. According to students’ accounts, on reporting this incident to the warden of the hostel, the students were faced with racist remarks and were told how such things happened to girls from North India.Along with this, the administration tried to sweep the matter under the rug on claims that it was baseless and more exactly, a trivial issue. Faced with this inaction by the administration, the students took to the streets for a series of protests throughout the campus building.

6. In Bharti College at Delhi University, the administration saw protests after the students alleged that the authorities had failed to address the issue of sexual harassment against a professor, even after being confirmed by the college’s internal complaints committee.

7. Hidayatullah National Law University saw a series of protests, starting in August this year. After the institute failed to react to students’ complaints of sexual harassment against many teachers, the students at the institute took the matters into their own hands as they organized protests and marches throughout the campus premises.Following hunger strikes and torch protests, the VC of the institute resigned from his post after the students alleged him of committing financial irregularities and his inaction towards four sexual harassment cases.

8. In 2016, the female students of various colleges in Delhi University took to the streets of the campus and protested against the patriarchal norms set by the institute’s administration towards its hosteling techniques.One of the foremost objections that the protest put forward was one against the application of a curfew and the clothing norms that were regulated by the campus authorities.

These series of protests, which were part of a campaign named ‘Pinjra Tod’, began about three years ago, and even in 2018, saw a revival and strengthening of the same demands.On October 8 this year, the students, under the garb of the campaign, organized an all-night protest on the campus premises, accusing the administration of sexist and discriminatory practices against its students. The students even took to protest on the streets of Delhi, as they broke the university locks and blocked Mall Road, chanting slogans and resonating with the literal meaning of Pinjra Tod, which is to break free.

9. In the Eden Hindu Hostel in Kolkata, after about 13 cases of malaria were reported by boarders, the students of the Presidency University camped outside the institute’s administrative building, signifying the need for better living conditions. The protesters alleged that the administration had spent an unexpected amount of time for the repair of a single hostel, which is why the students had decided to camp out.

Around 200 students from Presidency University march from campus to Rani Rashmoni Avenue to agitate for immediate accommodation at Hindu Hostel. (Photo: Education Not For Sale/Facebook)

 

10. Institute of Medical Sciences at BHU also witnessed a sit-in after the college administration failed to address the student body’s grievances. Students pursuing nursing had alleged the authorities of not responding to their queries about the status of recognition of their degrees, which had been in question for some time now. Although the sit-in began as a peaceful form of protest, it soon turned violent as few members from the administration resorted to manhandling the students by dragging and beating them around.

11. In early December this year, a student from Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Science (IGIMS), Patna, committed suicide after being failed in four out of her six exams. This incident triggered protests by a handful of students which alleged the administration of torture and inducing mental stress on students throughout the college. An FIR was also lodged against a few members from the institute authorities, including the principal of the college.

As one might see, the intensity of these protests signify an important feature of today’s education. The right to be able to question those in power is an important part of dissent and with the climbing number of protests by the student community, it is evident that our educational institutions might just be the only spaces left to preserve this basic idea of democracy.

Featured image source: Sanchit Khanna for Hindustan Times via 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.

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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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