A massive citizen’s march was held in New Delhi on Saturday, November 23, to protest the Narendra Modi government’s attempts at effecting massive fee hikes in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), other Central universities and other public-funded institutes like IITs, TISS, etc. The protest was aimed to defend education as a right of the people.
The thousands of protesters, comprising students, teachers, alumni of JNU, Delhi University, Ambedkar University Delhi, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), IIT Delhi, etc. carried posters and placards that decried fellowship cuts, reduction of the education budget, the introduction by the government of the practice of self-financing by encouraging Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA)-funded loans and the treatment of education as a profiteering sector. Students from Ayurveda colleges in Uttarakhand who have been on hunger strike now for over 50 days against fee hikes also took part in the march.
The march, which started late as more and more people poured in the capital’s Mandi House crossroad, also saw a surprisingly high number of senior citizens who came to express their solidarity with the students. The protest also decried the Modi government’s Draft National Educational Policy, 2019, calling it anti-people and anti-education. A unanimous call went out to the government, calling upon it to ensure equitable and affordable education at all levels as a right of all Indian citizens.
A large number of JNU alumni came from places as far off as Rohtak in Haryana and Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan. Amaresh Singh, a college teacher from Jhunjhunu, said, “Since I got to know the march is on a Saturday, I took a night bus and reached Delhi in the morning. I come from an impoverished background and lost my father as a child. My mother was a brick kiln worker and ensured all of us, three brothers and sisters, studied. Without JNU, I could not have done a Master’s Degree. Today, what I am is because the fees were so low. I have to stand by today’s students who must also have their right of social mobility. JNU empowers people. Affordable education empowers people. The government’s move to exclude the disadvantaged people from the ambits of higher education has to be defeated.”
Apart from SFI, AISA, AISF, BAPSA, PDSU, DSU, KYS and other students organisations, trade unions also participated in large numbers. Banners of CITU, INTUC, AITUC, etc. could be seen everywhere. Chandrasekhar Azad’s Bheem Army volunteers participated in large numbers too. Other mass organisations like NFIW, AIPWA also took part in the march.
There was huge police bandobast all along the route of the march. Delhi Police had brutally assaulted JNU students on November 18 as the students took out a march from the campus to Parliament. Scores of students were injured and hospitalised as reports of indiscrimate police lathicharge, stomping on students and even beating up physically challenged students surfaced in the media.