A joint call for a ‘People’s March’ given by the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) and Federation of Central Universities’ Teachers’ Associations (FEDCUTA) and supported by students’ unions of various universities including Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), University of Delhi (DU), Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Jamia Milia Islamia and Ambedkar University Delhi saw unprecedented mobilization on Wednesday.

In a unique show of solidarity, teachers and students made it clear that unless the government concedes to their demands, the streets of Delhi will keep witnessing protests in various forms.

The summer in Delhi has set in and the mercury is already hovering around the 40 degree Celsius. However, the sweltering heat is not deterring thousands of students and teachers from hitting the streets almost every day with their demands. In fact, it’s the government which is facing the heat.

A Moment from the Protests

The call was to march from Mandi House to Parliament Street and thousands of students and teachers gathered at Mandi House. The organizers claimed that over 15,000 people participated in the march. The People’s March was organized against the government’s ‘policy onslaught’ of financial autonomy, self-financing of courses, negative pay and service conditions of teachers, attack on reservations and loan-funding through Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA). The march culminated at the Parliament Street.

Students were seen waving colourful and witty posters, singing, playing musical instruments and shouting slogans against privatization and commercialization of public-funded higher education.

Rajeev Ray, the president of DUTA, said, “The Government has lately been pussy-footing around the question of public funding in higher education. However, as the University Grants Commission (UGC) regulation on autonomy and the finance minister’s budget announcements on HEFA have shown, the government is keen to withdraw public-funding, impose self-financing models on public-sector universities and colleges and force them to take loans for infrastructure by mortgaging public resources like buildings and land as collaterals. This puts a question mark on the affordability of higher education. It also manifests itself in the government’s unwillingness to appoint adequate teachers on permanent basis, allow fair promotional avenues and give pensions to retired teachers”.

The government has also angered the teaching community by hastily notifying changes in the Reservation Roster on Appointments. By insisting that departments be considered as units instead of whole colleges and universities as units, the Government has created a situation which will undermine the Constitutional obligation of reservation for Scheduled Castes (SCs)/ Scheduled Tribes (STs)/ Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and slow down the process of achieving full reservation.

DU has been hit hard by all these issues in recent times. It has also been forced to start new courses in journalism, cyber security and strategic diplomacy on self-financing mode with teachers appointed on short-term contracts. This has severely affected the quality of teachers and the student-teacher ratio at the university. More than 50 percent of its faculty members across colleges and departments are forced to work on ad-hoc and guest basis, without any job security or service benefits.

A press release issued by DUTA later said, “DU teachers and students are able to understand the grave implications of the Government’s Privatization Agenda. The DUTA has also succeeded in rallying other universities on these issues. It demands 100 percent assured funding of all Central and State universities and Central Assistance to cover the 7th Pay Revision for all teachers across the nation. The DUTA also demands immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the Autonomy Regulation, plus the immediate suspension of loan-funding initiatives through HEFA. If the Government is unable to read the writing on the wall, then the DUTA and FEDCUTA will spearhead a nation-wide movement of teachers and students, in coordination with All India Federation of University and College Teachers’ Organisations (AIFUCTO). It will educate the public against the destructive policies of the Government, in higher education”.

The ‘People’s March’ Saw Unprecedented Participation

But top officials in the Ministry of Human Resource Development maintain that there is no question of “going back on the autonomy given to universities and colleges”. Sources in the ministry say that it’s only going to help the universities in raising their ‘global stature’. On March 26, Prakash Javadekar clarified in an interview to PTI that the autonomy being granted to several leading varsities, including JNU and others, is in “no way a step towards privatization of education” or fee-hikes, and the Centre will continue to support these educational institutions like before.

Javadekar added, “The Union government would continue to fund the salaries of the faculty members as well as provide other grants. A greater autonomy essentially means an enhanced global stature and a greater freedom to undertake fresh academic initiatives. The autonomy being granted to JNU and others is in no way a step towards privatization of education as is being suggested by some quarters.” edInbox tried to reach the minister but could not as he was busy in a cabinet meeting.

Javadekar’s assertion that autonomy doesn’t mean a hike in fees or reduction of grants has not cut ice with the academic community at large. He told PTI, “All the apprehensions are misplaced; the autonomy will mean freedom to do more research, expansion and take up many other academic initiatives”.

His ministry wants that all the vacant posts must be filled and the government is willing to regularize the salary of new recruits, he said in the context of Delhi University.

“As far as the University of Delhi is concerned, we are following up with the university and the colleges to recruit all faculty positions on regular basis with proper due diligence. We shall be funding 100 percent of salaries of all the faculty members as we are doing now,” he said.

But not many are willing to take his words on face value. A representative from AMU told edInbox, “This government is actually against the people of this country. The reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs are being curtailed. This move by the government means that it does not want the youth of this country to get educated because if they do then they will demand jobs. This autonomy simply means privatization. As far as AMU is concerned, the institute is already autonomous as par the AMU Act of 1920. This is simply backdoor privatization. This is the government of rich people, which is working against the interests of the students and the youth. Geeta, the president of JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU), gave the example of Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) where the annual fee has been increased to 12 lakhs. She asked the cheering crowd as to how many of them present there can afford such a massive fee forget about the millions and millions of those who come from poor and deprived backgrounds. She added that the state can’t withdraw from social sector spending.

Politicians of various political parties too joined the protesters at Parliament Street to extend their support. Brinda Karat and Mohammed Salim of CPI(M), Sushmita Dev of Congress, Manish Sisodia and Sanjay Singh of AAP, Amarjit Kaur of CPI and most surprisingly Krishna Tirath of BJP. It was not clear if Krishna Tirath came there in her individual capacity or was representing her party.

With such diverse political and ideological forces at one platform, the discourse had to turn political. The government was the target of all of them. Brinda said, “On one hand, this government is cutting down on reservation and seats are being reserved for foreign faculty members and students. This government must realize that the institutions of this country are not Shakhas that they can run as they wish”.

Sanjay Singh of AAP said, “This government says that it does not have money to spend on social sectors like education and health but it collaborated and allowed people like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi to run away with thousands of crores of tax payers’ money”.

Clearly the battle lines have been drawn. Students and teachers are not willing to concede a centimetre in their fight against the “autocratic” university administration and what they call as “anti-people government”. There is no communication between the two sides and it seems that the streets of Delhi will continue to witness massive mobilization of students and teachers in their fight for justice.

#peoplesmarch #duta #fedcuta

Reporting by Dhananjay Kumar
Editorial Consultant, Delhi