Around 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon, the sun was beating down on a couple of students who have been camping outside Jawaharlal Nehru University administration building for the past 10 days, demanding an increase in merit-cum-means scholarship. The glass doors to the administration building, usually open with unassuming guards inside, were closed shut and those allowed to enter were being closely scrutinised.
“The Rector has appealed to them. The Vice-Chancellor has said that he has done everything he could to get the funds. He has even promised to contribute Rs.5 lakh from his own pocket into the fund yet the students continue to protest,” said a university official, handing out the written appeal.
The situation in JNU has been volatile for the past two weeks due to allegations and counter-allegations between the administration and the students’ union.
“The rules of hunger strike say salt and water are allowed, and so I have been letting myself have these two and nothing else for the past 10 days,” said Akbar Choudhry, an M. Phil. Student, one among the 10 students who are on strike. “Neither the Rector nor the V-C has deigned to meet us. The Rector has said that there are enough scholarships and education loans; and the V-C said if a child demands pizza everyday, we cannot the same. We are not asking for pizza but a decent amount of money so that the student covered under this scholarship is not forced to go without the essentials,” he added.
The trouble started with a circular that promised an increase from the existing scholarship of Rs.1,500 to Rs.2,000. “The notification by the administration was sent to the Congress-affiliated National Students’ Union of India, keeping the JNU Students’ Union in the dark. What is more worrisome is that while the JNUSU is in the midst of a serious agitation, the NSUI is being called for parallel negotiations with the administration,” said JNUSU president Lenin Kumar. He added that the scholarship was last increased in 2007 from Rs.600 to Rs.1,500 and after that there has been no hike until last year when the administration promised a raise after a widespread agitation by the union.
“The amount of Rs. 2,000 is not enough. Last month’s mess bills amounted to Rs.2,100 and the scholarship cannot even cover the same. We want it to cover incidentals such as photocopying and stationery. Our demand of Rs.3,000 is reasonable,” he added.
The university’s claims of not having resources were ridiculous, said the students. “Around Rs.1.70 crore were spent on technical updates at the library and there are these beautification measures being undertaken everywhere. For a university that prides itself in taking in deprived sections of brilliant students, these funds can be utilised for the poor,” said Choudhry.
The hunger strike might end on Saturday, said the students since the union has to handover charge to the Election Commissioner next week for the elections to take place next month. But they insist: “The struggle will continue.”