February 19, 2019 witnessed a national level protest called the People’s March by teachers and students from all over India against the commercialization of higher education in public universities like Delhi University.
This was an initiative of the DUTA (Delhi University Teachers’ Association), FEDCUTA (Federation of Central University Teachers’ Association), and the AIFUCTO (All India Federation of University and College Teachers’ Association) under the Joint Forum for Movement on Education (JFME) comprising all-India organisations of school teachers, of employees and students.
Demands included bettering public education, regularisation/absorption of those working on various kinds of contractual arrangements, assured promotions and pensions.
The air was ringing with the sounds of different slogans like “Hum kya maange? Azadi!” (What do we want? Freedom!) “DUTA march on! March on!” “Awaaz do! Hum saath hain!” (Voice yourselves, we are one!) “Jo sarkar nikammi hai, vo sarkar badalni hai!” (The government that is useless must be changed!) “Inquilab Zindabad! Zindabad! Zindabad!” (Long Live The Revolution!)
The capitalisation of higher education wasn’t the only uniting cause; apart from it there were several other causes raised by different groups.
1. Commodification Of Higher Education
The government has taken several steps for the commercialisation of the higher education sector. It is hardly taking any steps to meet the shortage of teachers and infrastructure in colleges. Teachers are being hired on a monthly contract basis with remuneration as low as ₹30,000. This massively hinders the goal of imparting quality education to students.
2. Self-Financing And Loan-Based Funding
Public universities are asked to finance themselves by raising fee and engaging in marketable activities schemes like graded autonomy and the like. As a measure towards gradual withdrawal of funds, the government is promoting self-financing in universities on loan-based funds.
3. Constant Hike In Fees
Expense of maintenance and expansion of the university is being pushed onto the students via a continuous hike in fees. This will make higher education unaffordable for a large number of students.
4. Reduction In Research Seats
5. Cutting Of Costs
Since 2014, most teachers and non-teaching staff have been denied pension. The current government’s obsession with cost-cutting in education has made it difficult for the staff who bank on this money for sustenance.
6. Ad-Hoc Teachers Being Denied Permanent Seats
Over 4500 teachers are teaching on an ad-hoc basis in DU, as permanent posts have not been filled for the last 10 years. They have no job security, get no increments in salary and are denied even basic rights like maternity leave. The DUTA has been demanding that the MHRD brings a regulation to absorb teachers working in temporary and ad-hoc basis, so that justice is done.
7. Inadequacy Under CBCS (Choice Based Credit System)
There is a skewed teacher-student ratio, the classrooms and labs are inadequate and over-crowded with hardly any choice given to students under CBCS.
Government schools and public health systems are being put to risk to benefit private business. Now, public-funded higher education is being targeted. There is an exclusion of members belonging to the SC and ST community, women and other minorities due to the newly proposed reservation roster, privatisation, financial autonomy and fee hikes. Higher education will become difficult to afford even for the middle-classes. Instead of fulfilling its promise of higher budgetary allocation for education, the government is treating it as a commodity to be sold for profit.
Despite the protest dealing with a plethora of issues, the protest was extremely short in duration as compared to previous protests by DUTA which generally last for 3-4 hours. While it would seem to be a vague argument on paper, it can in actuality be linked to the differences between the groups. Since different groups had different banners, posters and issues, there was a lack of cohesion in the protest as a whole.
The clear segregation of groups reduced the importance of the main argument. Even though the number of people protesting increased substantially, it was discerning to see the prominent differences. The short duration of the protest also led a larger time chunk being dedicated to the speeches and lectures.
Previous protests in Delhi University regarding FYUP, against removal of a controversial essay on Ramayana in 2011, against regressive hostel rules in 2016, the protests at Ramjas in 2017, the Khalsa protest in 2018, and even teacher strikes are the latest in a long history.
Having said that, I believe it is imperative to say that the protests led by Delhi University teachers and students show a deep-rooted sense of responsibility and consciousness towards public responsibility.
Reduction in the number of teachers, contractualisation, downgrading of the profession through denial of promotion and pension in order to reduce cost is an anti-people assault. This protest and others like this strive towards an access to quality education for the youth of the country.
It is important to realise that azadi can be attained not only through raps but also through protests against such causes which reduce basic rights like education to merely a profit-earning commodity.