Shouting slogans and raising banners, thousands of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students clashed with police on Monday as their protest over steep fee hike escalated, leaving HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ stranded for over six hours at the venue of the varsity’s convocation.
The students of the varsity, which has seen several such agitations in the recent years, were protesting outside the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) premises, the venue for the varsity’s third convocation, which was addressed by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu.
The protests started in the morning and escalated as the day progressed with crowds of angry students, with banners saying ‘Roll back fee hike’, trying to push through a wall of anti-riot police personnel to reach the venue.
Several barricades put up by the police were broken by the students, who started their march towards the AICTE premises, about 3 km away from the university’s campus in south Delhi, around 10.30 am.
Water cannons were used to disperse the protestors and police said some of the students were detained. Top brass of the Delhi Police were at the site to handle the situation.
The students shouted slogans like “Police ko aage karta hai, JNU VC darta hai” (JNU VC keeps police in front as he is afraid) as they demanded that vice chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar meet them and listen to their demands.
During the scuffle with police personnel, the students raised slogans like “Police-walo ki ek bimari, Tis Hazari, Tis Hazari”, referring to their clash with lawyers at the city’s Tis Hazari court a few days back. Slogans supporting lawyers, who are on a strike following the clash, were also heard.
Barricades were placed outside the north and west gates of the JNU campus, as well as on the route between the AICTE auditorium and the university at Baba Balaknath Marg and nearby areas but the marching students broke one after the other.
The students are demanding withdrawal of the draft hostel manual, in which service charges of Rs 1,700 were introduced and the one-time mess security fee, which is refundable, has been hiked 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 increased to Rs 300 per month from Rs 10 per month.
The draft hostel manual also has provisions for dress code and curfew timings, the students’ union alleged, even as the administration denied these two claims.
The gates of the AICTE were locked and security personnel were stationed in and outside the premises.
While Naidu left the venue after attending the convocation, the HRD Minister was stuck inside for over six hours forcing him to cancel two scheduled events later in the day. The minister was able to leave the premises around 4.15 PM.
“The situation has been handled. Students met the minister and he assured them that their concerns will be addressed,” a senior HRD Ministry official said.
An officer said JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh and vice president Saket Moon were asked to talk to the students to make way for the minister and police requested them to move from the gate, but they refused.
The JNUSU office-bearers later met ‘Nishank’ who assured them that their demands would be looked into. They, however, were not able to meet the VC and raised slogans “we want V-C”.
“The VC is destroying the varsity. We have made several attempts to meet him in the campus, but there has been no fruitful result,” Ghosh said.
Around 15 to 20 students who were graduating were sitting inside the auditorium main gate in solidarity with the protestors.
“Historic day for us that we broke barricades, reached the convocation venue and met the minister,” Ghosh said.
“This could happen because we were united. This is not the end of our movement. We urged the HRD minister to ask the VC to have a dialogue with the students and he assured us that he will direct the VC to talk to the students. It is due to him (the VC) that things have come to be like this,” she added.
Ghosh claimed that the HRD minister has promised that the students’ union would be called for a meeting to the ministry.
“We will have to ask the executive council members to reject the hostel manual in its upcoming meeting on Wednesday,” Ghosh said.
A protesting student said, “The hostel fee has been increased by 300 per cent. Where will the students stay and study if this happens with us?”
Some students attending the convocation also shouted slogans from inside the AICTE gate even as their parents, who came here to attend the ceremony, were stuck due to the protest.
The protestors also raised several other issues like restrictions by the administration on entry to the Parthasarathy Rocks — a hillock inside the campus, and attempts to lock the students’ union office.
The students’ union has been on a strike against the draft hostel manual, which was approved by the inter-hall administration. They have said the strike will not end until the hostel manual is withdrawn.
Traffic came to a standstill around the area due to protests in the varsity, which is on the boil again. In February of 2016, the JNU was in news after alleged seditious slogans were raised on the campus that snowballed into a major political controversy. Then students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar who was at the epicentre, fought the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year.