PUDR strongly condemns the repression unleashed by the Delhi police on students protesting against the University Grants Commission's move to scrap non NET fellowship for research scholars. The protesting students were lathicharged by the Delhi police first on October 23 and again on October 27.
The students began what is now known as the '#Occupy UGC' movement after the University Grants Commission's (UGC) decision to scrap non NET fellowship for research scholars. This scholarship is given by Central Universities to those who are pursuing either MPhil or PhD but have not cleared the NET (National Eligibility Test). The withdrawal of even this meager amount, of Rs.5000 to MPhil and Rs.8000 to PhD students per month would severely hamper students from pursuing research work.
On the evening of October 21, many students from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia and Ambedkar University marched to the UGC office at ITO protesting the UGC move. The students broke barricades and demanded a meeting with the chairperson of UGC Ved Prakash which did not materialise. The students' demand was not only for the reinstatement of this fellowship but also for bringing it at par with the NET fellowship and expanding it to all state universities. Not satisfied with the response of the UGC, the students decided to occupy the UGC by sitting on an indefinite dharna till their demands were met. From the first day on there was a heavy Delhi police and CRPF deployment.
The first police crackdown on students happened on October 21 at 4:30 am when 100 students were rounded up and taken to the Bhalaswa Dairy police station. News of this led to the mobilization of several students to the UGC building where the police resorted to lathicharge in which several students were injured. The students then responded by blocking ITO crossing. It is noteworthy that the BJP affiliated students' organisation ABVP which too mounted a protest on the UGC on this day and pelted stones from outside were untouched by the Delhi Police while peaceful protestors were rounded up. Four days later on October 27 the police again lathicharged protesting students and took them to the Kamala Market police station but had to release them due to pressure from teachers and students who gathered outside the police station in large numbers. The Police also beat up protestors in the police bus while they were being taken to the station. The injured students were taken to LNJP Hospital near Delhi Gate only after much pressure. In an interview the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central) Paramaditya blamed the students and insisted that that no one had been lathicharged. However the police violence was captured on mobile cameras thus discrediting the police version.
It is important to note that on October 26, the MHRD came out with an order which stated that fellowships would continue for the moment. However the order also said that a review committee would be formed in December which would determine economic or other criteria for awarding the non NET fellowship. This order was rejected by the agitating students as it went against their demand of providing fellowship to all students without any distinction. They also fear that this response of the government is only to weaken the movement in opposition which is being carried out by the students.
The student agitation is into its 12th day with no sign of letting up. This movement has received support from teachers, research scholars and students from many parts of the country. The academic community views this as the latest in line of numerous fund cuts by the government in the education sector with the larger aim of privatizing higher education. Unfortunately the UGC is not only silent on this movement but also on the vicious attacks on protesting students.
PUDR would like to draw attention to the tactics adopted by the Delhi Police to intimidate students and prevent them from articulating legitimate demands. This is a familiar method adopted by them to suppress dissent. Delhi Police is famously known for hounding dissidents from ex-servicemen to agitating workers, while carrying out raids at the behest of hooligans. The meeting of genuine aspirations of people with State force is an indicator of the threat to democratic rights in the country. PUDR extends its solidarity to the agitating students and demands that the government listen to the students' demands and allow them to articulate their protests without fear. Dissent and protest is the very essence of a democracy and PUDR condemns the Delhi police and the ruling dispensation for attempting to curb this and violently attacking the students.
Sharmila Purkayastha and Megha Bahl