Thousands of students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, led by members of the Students’ Union, on Monday protested outside the All India Council For Technical Education (AICTE) auditorium even as Vice-President of India Venkaiah Naidu and Union Minister for Human Resource Development Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ were guests at University’s third convocation.
The students are demanding a withdrawal of the draft hostel manual and the proposed a hike in the hostel fees since October 28 and alleged that Vice-Chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar has not responded to their demands. According to the student’s estimates, they will have to pay ₹30,100 annually, excluding mess charges, under the revised fees instead of the ₹2,740 that they now pay.
The agitated students broke through barricades set up at the campus gates as well as barricades on Nelson Mandela Marg by mid-morning and moved towards the convocation venue, some 3 km from the campus. As protesters clashed with the police manning the barricades, the latter used water cannons to disperse the crowd.
While Mr. Naidu left the venue after the convocation just before the protestors arrived, Mr. Pokhriyal was stuck inside for over six hours forcing him to cancel two scheduled events.
The minister was able to leave the premises only around 4.15 p.m. after having a meeting with the protesters.
Though he assured the students that his Ministry would look into their demands, the students were not persuaded as the JNU Vice-Chancellor had refused to meet them.
‘Unable to meet V-C’
President of the JNUSU Aishe Ghosh said the V-C was destroying the university and that several attempts to meet him were not successful as he did not want to have a dialogue. “The Union Minister has assured us that he will instruct the V-C to have a dialogue with us and we hope that the upcoming executive council meeting will not pass the draft hostel manual,” Ms. Ghosh said.
Following a meeting with the JNUSU representative, the HRD Ministry in a statement said “Mr. Pokhriyal had held positive talks with JNU students about their problems and the Union Minister assured them that their problems would be resolved soon.”
The students protesting outside the venue found solidarity with students attending the convocation inside as well as they raised slogans inside the venue.
The JNUSU speaking about the protest said the University faces an unprecedented crisis with an overwhelming number of its students facing a threat to their academic future as a majority come from the most marginalised backgrounds in this country and they would not be able to continue their studies with the hike in hostel fees.
The Union also took on the Delhi Police for “resorting to unprovoked violence on the students and using water canons.
A Delhi police officer said, “We tried to get the students and V-C to talk but the V-C refused. We then set up a meeting with the Union HRD Minister. The students then dispersed peacefully in the evening.”
The students said they hope that the meeting on hostel rules be reconvened in the presence of student representatives and all regressive parts pertaining to hotel fee, dress code, and curfew timings must be revoked.
The JNU administration did not comment on the events of the day. It also did not extend an invitation to most major media houses to cover the convocation.