New Delhi: Ramesh Kumar, 22, a student of the School of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), had cleared the multi-tasking staff exam in Jharkhand and was ecstatic about earning Rs 20,000 a month that would end all the financial problems back home.
Kumar had been considering taking up the job at the expense of dropping out of higher education. He was then studying in St Xaviers’ College in Jharkhand. However, his professor, who was an alumnus of JNU, encouraged him to sit for an entrance test at the country's premier educational institution. He cleared it.
"And today, I am not the same Ramesh Kumar. After having studied for a year in JNU, I am a transformed individual. I can speak in English and I understand world politics. However, I don't know if I can continue to aspire. The fee hike will break the back of my family as they cannot pay so much for my education. They would think a peon's job with a monthly pay of Rs 20,000 was safer,” he told News18.
Kumar is uncertain of his future because of the hostel manual proposal, which has introduced a service charge of Rs 1,700 and a one-time refundable mess security fee that has seen a jump from Rs 5,500 to Rs 12,000.
The rent for a single-seater room has been increased from Rs 20 per month to Rs 600 per month, while the rent for a double-seater room has been hiked from Rs 10 to Rs 300 per month in the draft hostel manual.
(JNU students Ramesh Kumar, Mohammad Sadiq and Ashutosh Kumar (from extreme right) and others on the campus.)
“My father is a driver and he cannot pay so much. I pray the next time I meet my seniors, who compliment me on my transformation, don’t see me go back to where I started,” said Kumar, who has always studied on scholarships.
Students fear JNU Vice Chancellor M Jagadeesh Kumar is trying to introduce the fee structure of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), which would make education inaccessible to certain sections of society.
The overwhelming sentiment on campus is that students from the underprivileged sections would have to drop out. For many of them, this would mean the end of their "great JNU dream".
A day after the university students clashed with police as their protest over the steep fee hike escalated, many said they would be summoned home if the hike comes into effect. The students' union has been on a strike against the draft hostel manual, approved by the Inter-Hall Administration (IHA), which they claim has provisions for hostel fee hike, dress code and curfew timings.
The draft hostel manual might come up for discussion at the Executive Council meeting on Wednesday and, if approved, will be implemented.
“If that happens, we might have to give up our higher education and take up other jobs,” said Ashutosh Kumar, a 19-year-old student of language.
Ashutosh said his father is an agriculturist and takes up other jobs to make some extra money. “For them to send me money is impossible as we earn less than a lakh per annum. My admission in JNU is a big hope back home. I will have to leave the campus if the proposal is executed,” he said.
“The vice-chancellor does not meet the students, does not listen to our grievances, and keeps student representation out of crucial student welfare meetings and this result in the IHA norms bending in favour of the financially privileged,” is a common complaint among students.
Mohammad Sadiq, who studies Arabic at the School of Languages, comes from Bihar. His younger brother back home stopped going to school after Class IX so that Sadiq could continue his education.
“My family can only fund one child’s education and with the fee hike, I think mine will also come to an end. I will have to kill my dreams of sitting for the civil services,” he said.
Sadiq said this will be a big blow to the people in his hamlet. “They don’t know about JNU, but they consider me an ideal boy (for having reached this far). With this new structure, the entire village will be convinced that big city education is not for all,” he said.
The students News18 spoke to said people in smaller cities and villages do not know there is a place that can ensure affordable education. For many of them, education is for the rich.
“It is not about JNU, it is about public education with social justice,” said Raju Kumar of the School of Language. The JNU Students' Union and JNU Teachers' Association have issued statements against the draft hostel manual.
“More than 40% students come from families with annual income below Rs 1,44,000, the poverty cut-off line as suggested by the university's annual reports. Instead of increasing and improving the modalities of Merit Cum Means (MCM) Scholarships (a monthly payout of Rs 2,000), the administration wants to take more from us,” said another student.
The MCM goes to JNU students enrolled in graduation and post-graduation courses, while MPhil and PhD students are dependent on the UGC Non-Net Scholarship, a monthly payout of Rs 5,000.
Students have decided to continue with their agitation till their demands are met. “The students will not pay the increased fee. We want a rollback. The movement will continue,” said former JNUSU president N Sai Balaji.