THOUSANDS of youth and students thronged the streets of Mumbai on Martyrs Day, March 23, 2018, demanding decent employment and opportunities for education. Hundreds of women demanding school admission for their children as per the RTE Act joined them. DYFI and SFI state committees had given the call for ‘March on Mantralaya’ on burning issues of employment and education.
On the employment question, the major demand was that the several lakh vacancies in state government offices, public sector undertakings and local self-government institutions across Maharashtra must be filled up immediately. Proper implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, increase in remuneration under this scheme, making it mandatory for private companies to notify their vacancies through employment exchanges, job reservation for Muslim youth as per the Ranganath Mishra commission recommendations, filling SC/ST quotas in public service jobs on a war-footing, establishing modern industrial units in adivasi areas, preventing the issuance of bogus ST certificates and extending job reservation to the private sector were some of the other demands.
As regards education, stop closing down of schools, appoint teachers, improve facilities in government schools and colleges, provide school admission to children under the RTE act, raise income ceiling for RTE admissions to Rs 3 lakh per year, curb private colleges from extracting hefty donations and capitation fees – these were the main demands.
Protesters had gathered from 18 districts of Palghar, Mumbai, Thane, Raigad, Pune, Solapur, Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara, Nashik, Ahmednagar, Beed, Aurangabad, Jalna, Parbhani, Nanded, Nagpur and Amravati. The student-youth march was organised in defiance of prohibitory orders issued by the police authorities. A large contingent of the police force was stationed in order to prevent the march from being taken out. Nevertheless, the march started from the compound of the Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh where students and youth had gathered in thousands. It was blocked by the police at Mahapalika Marg near Azad Maidan. Following this the youth and students occupied the main road for around one hour. The rasta roko was called off only after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis agreed to receive a delegation of student and youth leaders.
A delegation comprising of DYFI-SFI state leaders Sunil Dhanwa, Preethy Sekhar, Mohan Jadhav, Balaji Kaletwad, Adv Ajay Burande, Adv Pradeep Salvi, Manjushri Kabade, Ashok Balla and Sunil Rathod met the Chief Minister. The chief minister agreed to give instructions to concerned authorities on certain matters which did not require any policy decisions like that of MNREGA and RTE implementation. He assured that the rest of the demands will be discussed in detail by the concerned ministry with the delegation in one months’ time.
Apart from many of the above state leaders of DYFI and SFI, the protesters were addressed at Azad Maidan by DYFI all India general secretary Avoy Mukherjee and SFI all India general secretary Vikram Singh. AIKS all-India president Ashok Dhawale, AIKS leader J P Gavit MLA, CITU state secretary S K Rege, DSMM vice president Shailendra Kamble, college teachers’ leader Kishore Theckedeth and AIDWA state secretary Sonya Gill also greeted the gathering.
The leaders speaking in the public meeting were highly critical of the central and state government’s neo-liberal policy framework which they said is the root cause of rapid commercialisation of education and acute unemployment. Huge contractualisation, outsourcing of jobs and re-employment of retired employees in the government and public sector has diminished the possibilities of decent employment even more. Speakers were highly critical of the extreme privatisation in the education sector and severely criticised the government action to close down 1,340 schools in the midst of the academic year. They also condemned the intention of the government to close down another 4,000 schools and the manner in which it is sabotaging the implementation of the RTE Act. Rightwing parties seek to use the distress of students and youth to cultivate hatred between communities, thus disrupting the resistance against the neo-liberal regime. Finally, they called for a more widespread and intense struggle against the BJP-RSS regime.
‘March on Mantralaya’ has become an important milestone in the student-youth movement in Maharashtra for the right to education and employment. A state level student-youth-worker convention held at Nashik in January and the statewide ‘Yuva-Vidyarthi Jagar Jatha’ by the SFI-DYFI held in February that toured 25 districts of Maharashtra imparted momentum to the movement.
SFI and DYFI state committees are going to keep a close watch on the Maharashtra government’s actions, using the chief minister’s assurances of March 23 as the reference point. Disastrous policies of governments in the last three decades of liberalisation have led to total commoditisation of education and caused unemployment to spread like an epidemic. The March 23 protest was the biggest student-youth mobilisation in Maharashtra in recent years against this pile of anti-people policies on the question of education and unemployment. The SFI and DYFI are determined to carry forward this struggle in the days ahead.