Even as a standoff continues between students and the administration at Jawaharlal Nehru University over hike in various fees, a BJP Member of the Rajya Sabha has demanded that the university be shut down for two years. The Right-wing, opposed to subsidising university education, have been arguing that fees at JNU should be at par with those in IITs and Jamia Milia.
Those who support the subsidy to continue point out that even today a majority of students of JNU belong to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the OBCs. They predominantly come from rural areas, are children of farmers and vegetable sellers and cannot get higher education if they have to pay competitive fees.
The following Facebook post, translated from the original Hindi, provides a perspective to the raging debate:
I had passed out of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC). But I didn’t get a job though I had come second in my class. To be fair, nobody from my batch got a job. The IIMC campus was next to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and I nursed a secret desire to study there. I didn’t get through the first time I applied.
By the time I applied next year, I had lost the ‘job’ with Hindi newspaper Amar Ujala. I expected no financial assistance from home. I didn’t have a place to stay nor money to pay for food. I had filled up the form to appear at the JNU entrance exam but I didn’t have books to prepare for the exam.
Worse, I was in no position to seek more loan from friends. I was ashamed to ask for more. Those were the days when I often would go to the hostels in JNU and quietly pick up a plate and have my meals. Generally, I was left alone but there were times when I was asked to produce my Mess Slip. I had none. The hunger I felt and my hungry look was my slips.
I remember the time when I was challenged by a Mess employee. I confessed I was not a student and added that I was very hungry. He served a vegetable on my plate and asked me to sit down. There were several such occasions I remember when the employees bailed me out.
When I remember those days, I still become emotional and my hand begins to tremble. I spent several nights at the JNU bus shed because I had no place to sleep. Whenever my friends spotted me, they would insist that I eat something without even asking what I was doing. They all instinctively knew that I was almost a destitute.
Several such friends are still on the list of my Facebook friends and would vouch for those bleak days.
I recall a senior student at JNU who, after a chat we had, volunteered that I should go to his room and sleep. “ Inspections are done periodically,” he had said, “but don’t worry, we will manage”. But I didn’t have the courage to accept his generosity or embarrass him.
Another JNU student unhesitatingly offered me his set of books for me to prepare for the exam.
More trouble was in the offing though and my Admit Card did not arrive. When an office-bearer of the JNUSU learnt of it, he barged into the room of the Examination Controller, had heated arguments with him and managed to get me my Admit Card.
Even after passing out of the JNU, my photograph is missing from the list of the alumni because my Admit Card did not have my photograph. I was asked to pay for a fresh Admit Card but once again, I had no money to pay for it. The JNUSU leader paid for it. I could return it only after a year.
Once I got admission into JNU, I had no money to pay for the Mess. My father couldn’t afford the monthly fee of one thousand Rupees those days. He had borrowed ₹1,500 from someone and sent it to me. It helped me pay my tuition fee for the first semester, which had come to four hundred and fifty Rupees.
But for the first six months or so, my friends pooled money to pay my Mess bills.
Had the fees been what they are today, I would not have been able to complete the course.
I know it for a fact that at JNU, even today there are students from very poor families like mine.
A couple of years back I was driving to the JNU campus on my motorcycle when a young boy on foot waved and asked for a lift. We began to chat and in no time he appeared on the verge of crying.
It was the same, old story. His father was a farmer and couldn’t afford to pay his Mess Bill of ₹800 a month.
For the poor, higher studies remain a struggle, a struggle which the well-off can never quite understand.