The Students’ Federation of India (SFI), Maharashtra state committee led a month-long statewide protest of students in the Industrial Technical Institutes (ITIs) with the main demand to scrap the negative marking system which was newly introduced for ITI students and which led to thousands of students failing in their examinations. More than 25,000 students successfully participated in these SFI-led protests in 20 districts of Maharashtra. It must be remembered that ITI students form part of the future working class of our country.
The stir culminated on December 30, 2014 – which is also the Foundation Day of the SFI – with an impressive statewide demonstration of over 3,000 ITI students in Mumbai and fruitful discussions with the state technical education minister. This agitation got excellent media coverage and brought the SFI into the limelight.
The main demands of this stir were the scrapping of the negative marking system, increase in the paltry stipend of Rs 40 per month, question papers in the mother tongue, hostels for every ITI, filling vacant posts of teachers and employees, and provision of all necessary infrastructure in all the institutes.
In the exams conducted by DGE&T in July 2014, nearly 80% of ITI students failed the examination. This happened as students were unaware of the negative marking system that was implemented in this exam. Students were not informed of this even on their question paper. They were shocked when they came to know this only when their results were announced and when thousands had failed.
With the main demand of scrapping the negative marking system, 1500 students marched to the district collectorate on December 3 in Sangli. Ex-SFI state secretary Umesh Deshmukh guided the students in their fight for justice. On the very next day, SFI state secretary Datta Chavan met the director R R Asawa, DVET state directorate office, with the Mumbai ITI students. But he refused to accept the mistake and said that a circular had been issued on July 11 regarding the implementation of the negative marking system. SFI demanded that he enquire from the ITIs why this information was not conveyed to students and demanded that he convey to DGET to scrap the negative marking system, otherwise the SFI would intensify its statewide protest.
The struggle that began from Sangli district spread like wild fire all over the state under the SFI leadership. 1000 students gathered at the collector’s office in Kolhapur. This rally was addressed by state secretary Datta Chavan and ex-SFI state joint secretary Subhash Jadhav. In Solapur, Satara, Pune, Ahmednagar, Jalgaon, Raigad, Thane, Mumbai, Aurangabad, Beed, Jalna, Nanded, Wardha and other districts, more than 25,000 students came out on the roads under the SFI banner for justice and their rights.
On December 18, ITI students organised a march in Mumbai. On the same day the higher and technical education minister Vinod Tawde announced in the state assembly that they will take forward this issue to DGE&T. Due to the continuous struggle by SFI all over the state, the state government had to announce this for the benefit of students when the Mumbai SFI delegation along with state president Mohan Jadhav met the officials of DVET. They promised to declare the revised result either by scrapping negative marking or by giving grace marks.
The other important demand was to increase the stipend of students. ITI students are getting just Rs 40 per month as stipend, according to a 1983 government resolution. It is a ridiculous mockery that the state government gives just Rs 40 stipend to ITI students.
With this and other demands, a Western Maharashtra regional convention for ITI students was organised in Sangli on December 20. More than 400 students attended this convention from four districts i.e., Solapur, Satara, Kolhapur and Sangli. The convention resolved to make the December 30 ITI students statewide march to Mumbai a great success. The convention was inaugurated by Mariam Dhawale, was presided over by Dr Subhash Jadhav, and was organised with the initiative of Umesh Deshmukh – all former SFI state leaders. The convention was also addressed by the present SFI state leadership and by the fighting ITI students themselves.
As a result of this SFI-led struggle, the revised results were declared. More than 55,000 ITI students were declared passed in the July 2014 examination. But the state government misled the ITI students by declaring that the negative marking system had been scrapped. The real truth was hidden. DGET had not scrapped the negative marking system, but had merely used grace marks for passing the students.
In the SFI march on Azad Maidan in Mumbai on December 30, over 3,000 students gathered for their rights. The Azad Maidan area was rent by slogans against the state and central government. An SFI delegation met the higher and technical education minister Vinod Tawde, where he promised that the government would take the initiative to scrap the negative marking system and would provide better facilities in ITI institutes and hostels. DGET had issued a circular where it had finally agreed to give the question papers in the mother tongue from August 2015. But the minister refused to give any assurance at all about increase in the paltry stipend amount and this will be the focus of future struggles.
The SFI charter of demands and a report of the discussions with the government were placed before the public meeting amidst cheers by SFI state president Mohan Jadhav and state secretary Datta Chavan. They reminded the students that this partial victory had been achieved only through our unity and struggle and that this should continue in the future also under the SFI banner.
Other SFI state leaders Balaji Kaletwad, Sunil Rathod, Somnath Nirmal, Ravindra Madne, Manjushri Kabade, Maruti Mengal, Meera Kamble, Namrata Nili, Suhas Zodage, Vimlesh Rajbhar, Kavita Vare, Umesh Patil, Amol Waghmare, Anil Misal, Shivaji Togarwar, Pankaj Pawar, Navnath More and others were present in the meeting.
Ex-SFI state secretary and currently state president of AIDWA, Mariam Dhawale, addressed the meeting in her forceful style. She attacked the educational and economic policies and the communal conspiracies of the BJP central and state governments and called upon the ITI students to fight and win their battles by strengthening the SFI manifold. The public meeting was also addressed by ex-SFI state secretary Umesh Deshmukh, DYFI state president Bhagwan Bhojane, ex-SFI state president Bhausaheb Zirpe and ex-DYFI state secretary Shailendra Kamble. The Mumbai rally concluded with an inspiring speech by ex-SFI/DYFI national vice president and currently AIKS national joint secretary, Dr Ashok Dhawale.