Thursday, 02 February 2023

The 10-day long indefinite hunger strike for the fulfillment of various important demands of the student community was called off on 2 November, after the JNUSU reached an ‘agreement of understanding’ with the administration. Among the demands were the reduction in the weightage given to viva voce in the JNU entrance test, provision of deprivation points to backward minorities, building of new hostels, increase in MCM scholarships and other demands. While a few demands have been met (assurances regarding some of the most important among them, concerning the autonomy of the GSCASH and student representation in Equal Opportunity Office, were given by the administration even before the indefinite hunger strike began), the administration has been non-committal on the demands which the agitation focussed on.

On the Issue of Hostels
Even as the monsoon semester is winding to a close, hundreds of students are yet to get hostels, faced with the hardships forced upon them due to the callousness of the administration. Facilities like SR/TR and dormitories, which are temporary arrangements, have been touted as substitutes for hostel rooms. In addition to these, there is an acute shortage of single seaters for research scholars, especially women. That new hostels have to be built on an urgent basis was, and continues to be, a core demand of the student community, but JNUSU’s agreement with the administration merely says, “Attempt will be made to build two hostels by 2014 based on the funds made available in the 12th Plan.” Going by the current trends, this would mean that by 2014, about 1500 students would remain without hostels, seriously compromising the character of JNU as a residential campus. Moreover, there is absolutely no mention of adequate temporary accommodation arrangements for students without hostels.

On Merit-Cum-Means (MCM) cholarships

Based on the huge increase in living expenses during the past six years since the last increase in MCM scholarships, the demand of the student community was that the MCM amount be doubled, from Rs.1500 to Rs.3000. But when it came up in the negotiations, the administration had the audacity to claim, in the first draft of the agreement of understanding, that “the University has been meeting expenditure on this (MCM) out of fees collected from students. The financial liability (sic.) at present rates of scholarship is more than Rs.2 crores whereas the amount of fees collected is roughly around 1.5 crores.” This utterly reactionary stance (which, in keeping with the neoliberal agenda of turning to “internal sources of revenue” to finance scholarships rather than considering financial assistance for students as a right) was repeated even in the second draft of the agreement. That the JNUSU leadership allowed such a stand to creep into the second draft was worrying, and after a united opposition from all organisations, the offending clause was dropped from the agreement. The final agreement says, “The University will take up this matter with the UGC as well as other agencies to generate funds for increasing the MCM fellowship amount up to Rs.3000/- from the next semester. The University will convey the status report regarding this matter in January 2013.” In other words, the student community will have to wait till the next year to get a clear picture on the issue.

On Viva Voce
The JNU administration has announced the setting up of another committee to consider the creation of “a structured and objective system for viva voce evaluation”, which effectively postpones the fulfillment of the demand to reduce the weightage of viva voce in JNU entrance. Some teachers even made open threats that the written exam would be made tougher to keep out students if the weightage of viva voce is reduced. While resolutely opposing such intimidating tactics, the attempts by the administration to create a wedge between the students and the teachers on this issue will have to be guarded against. The JNUSU leadership does not seem
to have even raised the demand to restore the role of the SFCs in the viva voce process, which would have been a significant measure to prevent discrimination and harassment in the viva voce.

On Deprivation Points for Backward Minorities
The University has agreed to form a committee to ascertain the legal/social position regarding the issue of provision of deprivation points to religious minorities. In the coming days, the JNUSU will have to carry forward the struggle to integrate the Ranganath Mishra Commission recommendations in the Admission Policy of the University. The Ranganath Mishra Commission, to recall, had observed that ‘positive discrimination on the ground of caste or religion coupled with other grounds such as social and educational backwardness is constitutionally permissible and, therefore, under a given circumstance it may be possible to treat a caste or religious group as a “class”.’ The Commission had argued that “Since the minorities – especially the Muslims – are very much underrepresented, and sometimes wholly unrepresented, in government employment, we recommend that they should be regarded as backward in this respect within the meaning of that term as used in Article 16 (4) of the Constitution”. The student community will also have to remain vigilant against formulations such as “if society is divided on the basis of religion, we will provide reservation on the basis of religion” (put forward by the President of SFI-JNU), which would become fodder to majoritarian communal forces, which see the demand for deprivation points as “minority appeasement” (ABVP pamphlet dated 29.10.2012).

The Balance of Political Forces since 2007 Remains Unchanged The developments since 2007 in the campus (which included, but were not confined to, the clampdown on student union elections) have meant a shift in the balance of political forces in favour of the administration, exemplified by the sheer volume of anti-student moves on its part during the last five years. The course and outcome of the agitation shows that this objective situation, whereby the hand of the administration has been strengthened at the cost of the students’ movement, has not been reversed. The JNUSU leadership, through speeches and pamphlets, has been trying to pacify the students by talking about “in principle acceptance from the administration”, seeing the outcome of the agitation as “a step forward”, “substantial advance” etc, instead of engaging in a concrete review of the agitation.

Sectarianism within JNUSU
The course of the agitation has also brought out in the open the sectarian nature of the differences of opinion between the organisations leading the JNUSU. Instead of sincere attempts to preserve the struggling unity of the JNUSU, what came out in the open was a fight between the leading organisations regarding competing demands and priorities, with the student community remaining largely in the dark. Such differences of opinion among the organisations that lead the union should be settled in the JNUSU council or at the UGBM rather than allowing them to affect the much-required unity in the course of the agitation. The office-bearers of the JNUSU should also be conscious of the message that is conveyed by quarrelling among themselves in public in the midst of an important agitation. Such acts that denigrate the highest platform of the JNU students would serve only to strengthen the hands of the administration.

SFI congratulates the student community of JNU for their participation in the agitation fought under the leadership of the JNUSU, and pledges to stand by the JNUSU in carrying our struggle forward to its logical conclusion.

Kopal, Manu, Viswanathan
(For the SFI Unit Organising Committee, JNU)