The day I became a graduate my father asked me about my future plans. I replied that I want to pursue higher education in development studies from a premier institute. He told me that as a daily wage labourer, he was not sure if he’d be able to fund my higher studies. It was in this context that JNU, the mecca of affordable education, crossed my mind.
Hailing from a politically unstable area, I became the first girl from my home to crack the coveted JNU entrance examination. I was aspiring to receive a degree from this prestigious institution but now as I contemplate the recent administrative decisions regarding the fee hike, suddenly my aspiration feels like a distant dream. Almost cloudier than the clear Delhi sky, so close yet so far.
What happened to the students who were peacefully protesting against the fee hike on November 18 shattered me to pieces and scattered all my thoughts. It gave rise to way too many questions, of which I still look for answers. The day before the November 18, I walked till the main gate and saw nearly 70 barricades that the was going to use for prohibiting students from reaching the Parliament.
But, around 10 a.m. in the morning, a message started circulating on WhatsApp. It said that the MHRD had allowed the students to march to the parliament and the police had reportedly removed the barricades from the main gate. Getting hold of some optimism, we started to march, but were stopped after half a kilometre from the main gate. There were barricades which did not allow us to go further and Section 144 was imposed on the spot.
Those leading the protest were targeted individually and detained. Several other students were also detained and were taken to 4 different police stations. Many of the police constables who were detaining students were not in uniform and their name badges were missing. They were even using blades and safety pins on students.
When the students realised it would not be possible to break the barricades, they chose a different path for the march but didn’t want to give up and return to campus. Again, the police and CRPF started running after the students in order to detain them, but nevertheless the crowd managed to reach the main road and marched till Jorbagh, where again we were stopped by the police.
While marching, we could see buses carrying barricades. Police and CRPF personnels were arriving one after another as if we weren’t students but criminals and a dire threat to this society. Near Jorbagh, the police lathi charged on some students which resulted in severe head injuries. So, all of us decided to sit right there and subsequently started sloganeering, singing songs, displaying placards, distributing leaflets, etc.
Students from other universities like Ashoka, DU, Jamia, Ambedkar also joined us and later, teachers too expressed their solidarity.
After 4 p.m. the students started dispersing. But, the people of Delhi were not happy to see students protesting on the street and blocking traffic. They started blaming students and also used abusive language. At 7:30 p.m. the street lights suddenly went off and the students started running around in panic. Everybody started shouting, “lathi charge ho raha hai bhaago, bhaago.” (a lathi charge is underway, time to run.)
I too got terrified and started running along with several others. As there was no light we hardly could see each other or the road in front of us properly. The petrol pump lights were also switched off, metro stations were closed, traffic was halted. While running, I sustained a knee injury as I fell down after colliding with a divider and was in immense pain. But, the fear of the police and the CRPF chasing me made me get up and run, managing somehow. I reached a public toilet and went inside to use it. But the CRPF was present in there too.
They banged the doors, slapped the boys and started pulling my batchmate’s hair. This terrified me and I broke into tears. The abusive language being used by the CRPF and police personnel was horrible. The whole incident was mental trauma for me and left me sleepless for nights at a stretch.
Questions that kept boggling my mind are: are we not the future of India? Is this the way the students of the country should be treated? Can’t the government ask themselves whether or not paying hefty fees for education is a matter of pride? Are we, the students fighting for affordable education, criminals? Should not education be made free for all? So that people from any background, any region, any class, any caste, speaking any vernacular can come and study together to create a better India?
The author is pursuing an MA in Development and Labour Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and is in her second year of study.