In the last few weeks, I have seen a dirty and grotesque spectacle of how media can be lethal to the mind and welfare of a country’s citizens. I saw how a fundamental right like education, an essential need of ‘young India’ can also be moulded by the media to become undesirable and a burden on the taxpayer’s money.
Today, I am writing about the #feehike at JNU, and many such universities in the last few years; and how JNU has taken the baton for taking what is rightfully theirs. I do not want to get ahead of myself and will explain the admission process of the university so that we can understand the issue at hand.
This is a system that gives ‘additional or extra’ points to the following individuals :
What does this do? These and a few other criteria ensure that people who have faced undue disadvantage to attain education, are put at the same level, as someone who hails from a wealthy family, studying in Delhi or Mumbai or some metro city. The ‘points’ allow a better and more just system, that understands and acknowledges the inequalities prevalent in our country and the world. So, what else does this do? This also ensures that the daughter of a waste picker attains education at one of the foremost universities, along with the daughter of an IAS officer. The university truly has one of the best and most admirable admission processes; and out of the 1 lakh students that apply for the courses, only 2000-3000 are selected after the written exam.
A social science university becomes one of the few options for people who hail from a disadvantaged background. They are not in a position to pay for the hefty fees of MBA’s or IIT’s or even other professional institutions, and the vulnerability does not often allow them to take coaching or be able to afford the education loan as well. This leaves a large number of hardworking and talented students in the social sciences, and JNU has indeed become a haven for such hardworking students. There are students in the university who stay throughout their 2-5 years in the hostel and never go back because their parents do not have sufficient resources to pay for them. The hostel and mess seem like a better and more appropriate option for them in such cases.
I am not saying this because I want to glorify the university, neither am I saying that the students never enjoy or are just studying. You have to go to JNU to understand that you would find people studying in the library for hours together, a few canteens are open till late to enable students to study. There are reading rooms all over the university, in separate schools, in hostels, in all possible places; and yet they are all mostly occupied. There is a culture of reading, sitting in a reading room and studying several books, because it is one of the few research-oriented universities, which is known for its PhD and M.Phil degrees, apart from its wonderful faculty.
When I was part of the university, there were things I did not like but I loved the culture of the university. It is not only about studying, but it is also about practising democracy, the implementation of various policies has taken place by keeping all stakeholders in the loop – Teachers, Students, Workers etc. Lately, the core fabric is being torn down as the Vice-Chancellor is passing amendments, proposals and approving rules without even taking into account the needs and demands of the teachers and students alike. This cannot be acceptable to the students, as they have breathed in the erstwhile free, liberal and democratic atmosphere of the university.
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (Foreign Secretary of India), Arvind Gupta (Indian Deputy National Security Advisor), Harun Rashid Khan (Deputy Governor of RBI), Venu Rajamony (Press Secretary to President of India), Abhijit Banerjee (Economist, Nobel Prize winner), Nirmala Sitharaman (Minister of Finance), Amitabh Kant (CEO of NITI Aayog), Yogendra Yadav (Indian activist and psephologist) and many other people. This is what the university has and can create, and yet you have a problem with this.
I won’t and will never say that the university is perfect, in fact, I have a lot of feedback but there are plenty of things that are great about the university. What the media is doing to the university, to the students and to their legitimate demands just breaks my heart.
The fees of JNU is not increasing from Rs 10 to Rs 300 per month, it was always Rs 2, 500 per month for mess facilities and is being increased to Rs 6, 000. Honestly, that is not even the issue, the bigger issue is – why should higher education be expensive in public-funded universities? These are the only few places where students from across the country, irrespective of their economic background can come and study – why increase their fee? Isn’t the most effective and useful way in which the taxpayer’s money can be used in – Education?
India spends a minuscule 2.7% of its GDP on education, while most developing and developed countries tend to spend anything between 4-7% on education. I am a taxpayer and I am more than happy to contribute to education and health, these are the two most essential backbones of our country. If we tend to increase the fee of our government institutions then the inequality in the country will increase further. Education remains the only way through which the trap that poverty has, over people and families, can be broken; if education is inaccessible, then poverty and inequality will become the norm.
The increasing inequality in the country is already taking its toll, and if this ratio becomes bigger then there is no turning back for the country. The dream of Gandhi, of Tagore, of Nehru and of B.R Ambedkar would never become a reality. If you want to live in such a country, then criticise the protests and the university, if not, then understand what is at stake and #StandwithJNU.