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.
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.
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.