Archives  >  2019  >  November  >  20th

JNU, Protesting

1. What’s the story?

The much-maligned institute of excellence, Jawaharlal Nehru University, is in the news again. This time, it’s about the fees. Its student body had been protesting for over three weeks against the draft hostel manual, “which has provisions for hostel fee hike, dress code and curfew timing.” Things ultimately came to a head on Monday, when hundreds of students attempted to march to the Parliament that was housing the first day of the Winter Session. Violence reportedly erupted as Delhi Police tried to use force to deter the protestors. A number of protesters and police personnel were injured, and Parliament stalled for a while amidst all this uproar. 

Tell me more.

The new hostel manual of the university, that came out recently, hiked hostel fees manyfold

“The JNU administration’s rationale for the hike is that the fee hasn’t been revised for 19 years. While the JNUSU has cited the university’s annual reports to suggest that more than 40% of the students come from lower-income groups and cannot afford the hike.

The new hostel charges require students to pay a service charge of Rs. 1,700 per month which previously did not exist. Rent for a single room has been increased from Rs. 20 per month to Rs. 600 per month. Rent for a double-sharing room has increased from Rs. 10 per month to Rs. 300 per month.”

The prolonged protest, which finally culminated in Monday’s march across the capital, also resulted in Delhi Police registering two FIRs against unknown protestors “for violating prohibitory orders, obstructing police officers from discharging duties, and causing hurt, according to India Today. The second FIR has been filed for the alleged damage caused to public property at Aurobindo Marg in South Delhi. According to the police, almost 30 police personnel and 15 students were injured during the eight-hour protest. The police had detained almost 100 demonstrators.

The FIRs were lodged even as the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union requested the Ministry of Human Resource Development not to initiate administrative action against students, PTI reported. “Students have been getting notices through e-mail for these protests,” said JNUSU President Aishee Ghosh. “But these protests are for a just cause and no student will pay even a single-rupee fine.

The protestors accused the police of beating them with batons near Safdarjung Tomb. However, the Delhi Police dismissed the allegation, saying the students were not assaulted with batons. Water cannons and tear gas shells were also not used, the police pointed out, commending its personnel for acting with restraint “despite continued defiance by some groups of students”.

Opposition members in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, in the meantime, vocally supported the JNU students — stalling Parliamentary proceedings for some time. Protesting MPs included Trinamool Congress’ Saugata Roy and BSP’s Danish Ali. 

“In the Rajya Sabha, Aam Aadmi Party MP Sanjay Singh alleged that it was for the first time that students of the university were “beaten mercilessly” for raising genuine demands. “It is the same Delhi Police that was complaining that their uniform was tainted after they were assaulted by lawyers,” he said. “Does beating innocent students, including a visually challenged one, not taint their uniform?”

Communist Party of India General Secretary D Raja said the use of police force on the students was barbaric and unprecedented. “The Modi government and the JNU administration should understand that the students are not only fighting for themselves but also for the future of their community,” Raja said.

Meanwhile, Union Minister Giriraj Singh alleged that some people wanted to turn JNU into a centre of “urban Naxalism”.”

So, what now?

This is not the first time that JNU has made news for the wrong reasons, and we suspect it won’t be the last. Though nothing definite is yet known about the state of the draft hostel manual, the protests have at least started a national conversation about the necessity of subsidized education. 

Keep your eyes on this space. We’ll keep you updated.

2. Where else should I be keeping my eyes on?

Assam, that’s where. Thousands of midday meal workers across the state are all set to go on a strike soon — which might throw this important social security scheme into a jeopardy — affecting millions of children who are dependent on these meals for their daily nutritional needs. 

“The midday meal scheme entails providing one hot cooked meal a day to children enrolled in primary and upper primary education in all government schools. It is aimed at reducing school drop-out rates and fighting malnutrition. The Centre and state governments jointly fund the scheme. The people, overwhelmingly women, engaged in preparing these meals are called “volunteers” and paid a flat “honorarium” of Rs 1,000. According to government data, more than 25 lakh “cook-cum-helper[s]” are engaged across the country in making food as part of this scheme.

But over the years, the Centre has outsourced meal preparations to non-profits. The government’s October guidelines, experts say, institutionalised this shift toward centralisation.

Assam was one of the first states to implement the guidelines. The incumbent cooks and helpers, the state said, would not lose their jobs but their role would be limited to distributing food to the children. Their wage of Rs 1,000 per month was to remain the same.

Yet protesters, which include Left-leaning trade unions, took to the street, blocking highways in several parts of the state. They insist that the centralised kitchens have made them dispensable and the non-profits would displace them sooner or later. “There is no guarantee that our salaries will not be reduced,” said Sabita Boro, who has been cooking at a school in Udalguri district since 2005. “We want the old system to be back.”

This fear, activists say, is rooted in past experiences. When the non-profit Akshaya Patra was roped in by the government to serve the urban areas of Kamrup (Rural) and Kamrup (Metro) districts in 2010, the organisation allegedly reduced the honorarium of existing cooks and helpers to Rs 500.”

3. What more?

These people pull rickshaws, sell tea, work as domestic help, and as daily wage labourers. They also “bare their souls in their writings and touch many hearts.” Here’s the story of India’s working class writers

“Chandrakumar or ‘Auto Chandran’, as he is called in his native Coimbatore, couldn’t continue his education beyond class 10 singed by poverty, but his love for literature never waned. By the time he was 15 he had finished reading the works of Bhagat Singh and French author Henri Charrière. As a restless teenager, he ran away from his home one day after a fight with his parents and landed in Guntur. His life took a tragic turn when the police picked him up along with his friends for questioning. “We were in our teens and early twenties and all of us were innocent. But we had to undergo 13 days of horrific torture in custody. The police wanted us to confess to a theft we had not committed,” recalls Chandrakumar. Now 57, he sports an intense look with a clean-shaven head and a thick white beard. 

He and his friends spent an additional five months in a Guntur jail before a court threw out their case. He returned to Coimbatore, after a year, in 1984. “I started driving the auto for a living, got married and buried myself in books. But deep inside, I was boiling with rage about the brutality I had suffered,” says Chandrakumar. He finally decided to pour out the anger, humiliation and the sheer powerlessness of ordinary folk in a book. Lock Up, written in Tamil, was released in 2006 to critical acclaim. Almost a decade later, it was made into a super hit Tamil film Visaaranai, which was India’s official nomination to the Oscars in 2017.”

4. Anything else?

Kashmir has been in a virtual lockdown since August — when the Indian Government repealed its special status and suspended most forms of communication in the state. Now, many months later, here’s what some Kashmiri children have to say about the prevailing situation — youngsters well-versed in the vocabulary of night raids, detentions, and curfews. It’s a strange mix of the mundane and the horrific, the innocent and the guilty.

“Nine-year-old Liaqat Zeeshan* (name changed) recalls the day when Article 370 was revoked. It was the day that his school was shut and the day when he had a ‘speaking’ competition, for which he had put in a lot of work, that he couldn’t participate in. “I felt so bad. I had been preparing for it for weeks but for nothing,” he bemoaned.  

On 28 October, three boys were taken into police custody on the suspicion of pelting stones in Soura, Srinagar.

“We were playing the park when were picked up. We weren’t pelting stones. The SHO came and hit us really badly. Then they pushed us into the Rakshak and hit us repeatedly. They even thrashed us with sticks. Then we went to the police station, they kept us in the lockup for two days.”, says Arif — one of the detained minors. 

Eleven-year-old Amir* who was detained along with Arif said he misses his mother. When he asked authorities to let him meet his parents, they refused.

“I am scared that the police will pick us up again and lock us up, which is why I don’t step out at all.”

(*Names have been changed to protect privacy.)

5. Is that all?

From Hong Kong to Chile, from Iraq to Lebanon, from Sudan to Turkey — 2019 has seen people across the world protesting against their Governments. Some of these protests have been successful, some haven’t. Some have been bloody, while some have been strangely non-violent. But all of them have one thing in common — a deliberate lack of an appointed protesting leader

““A leader is best when people barely know he exists,” Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, is thought to have said. “When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: ‘We did it ourselves.’’’

But what if a leader doesn’t exist at all? Around the world, leaderless protest movements have emerged, drawing tens of thousands (and, in some cases, millions) of people to the streets. Though their catalysts vary, the protests have largely looked the same: From Hong Kong and Chile to Iraq and Lebanon, people have utilized social media to whip up spontaneous, mostly nonviolent grassroots demonstrations against their respective governments—efforts they have vowed to sustain until all their demands are met.

The movements have sometimes succeeded—unpopular legislation was reversed in some places, and public officials were forced to resign in others—but in a few instances that has only emboldened protesters to seek further demands. As the scale of government response intensifies, it raises the question: How long can these grassroots movements last? Without a clear organizer at the helm, do these protests risk morphing into something even its participants can’t control? Is the lack of centralized leadership a source of weakness—or strength?”

6. Before you leave…

Take a look at how, in a strange twist of events, Sweden has ended its years-long, high-profile investigation into Julian Assange over rape claims(Quick recap: Julian Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks that came into prominence in 2010, when it accessed and published damaging leaks about the internal practices of the US Army and Government.)

“Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecutions, Eva-Marie Persson, says she has decided to end her office’s investigation of rape allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Persson’s office says the evidence “has weakened considerably.”

Despite her decision, Persson said in a news conference in Stockholm on Tuesday that she found the account of the alleged victim to be credible.
“I would like to emphasize that the injured party has submitted a credible and reliable version of events. Her statements have been coherent, extensive and detailed,” Persson said. She added, “However, my overall assessment is that the evidential situation has been weakened to such an extent that there is no longer any reason to continue the investigation.”

The Swedish inquiry’s initial phase extended from 2010 to 2017. Persson said the long delay played a role in her decision, noting the difficulty of extracting reliable accounts from witnesses after such a long delay — particularly in a high-profile case that has been widely covered by the media.”

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