Vol. XLI No. 09 February 26, 2017

Students’ March against Attacks on Education, Democracy & Social Justice

Vikram Singh

THE Modi government has completed two-and-a-half years. The promise of ‘achhe din’ has vanished long ago and instead of that, we are seeing an all-out attack on the life and livelihoods of common people. Students and youths had voted in large numbers for BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with the hope that it would provide relief from the unrelenting miseries imposed by the Congress rule. However, the experience of these two-and-a-half years has proved to be contrary. This government has relegated education and employment -- the two prime agendas of the students in this country.

We have witnessed an unrelenting authoritarian assault on campuses and students in the past couple of years in the wake of the imposition of RSS’ agenda of Hindutva. This has also been the period of growing struggles and resistance, with student movement emerging as a catalyst in the fight against authoritarianism. However, what has gone largely unnoticed is the increasing economic attack on students.

Attacks on Education

Successive central governments have been demonstrating their stanch commitment to private capital and its neo-liberal offensive. The present government is strictly implementing these neo-liberal policies in the field of education which is weakening the hard-earned public education system of India. These developments are nothing to be surprised at because they are part of the global campaign of the neo-liberal capital. The impact of these policies is visible in the rampant growth of private educational institutions, both at primary and higher education levels. Due to commercialisation, education is becoming costlier and more students are being compelled to leave their education. Apart from that, the impact is visible in the poor condition of our education system and low achievement level of students.

According to the latest ASER report of Pratham organisation, the overall enrolment in schools was 96.9% in 2016. However, in some states, the fraction of out-of-school children (age 6-14) has increased between 2014 and 2016. These include Madhya Pradesh (from 3.4% to 4.4%), Chhattisgarh (from 2% to 2.8%), and Uttar Pradesh (from 4.9% to 5.3%). In some states, the proportion of girls (age group 11-14) out of school remains greater than 8%. These states are Rajasthan (9.7%) and Uttar Pradesh (9.9%). Joining them in 2016 is Madhya Pradesh (8.5%). Nationally, the proportion of children in Standard III who could read at least Standard I level text is 42.5% in 2016.  Nationally, reading levels in Standard VIII show a slight decline since 2014 (from 74.7% to 73.1%).

The main reason for this low level of achievement of students in schools is the huge number of vacant posts in educational institutions and poor infrastructure.  We have a shortage of trained teachers as well as training institutes. There are 6 lakh posts of teachers vacant under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Even in Kendriya Vidyalayas, 7,698 out of 44,529 sanctioned teaching posts are vacant; so are 50 per cent of positions in teacher-training institutions. The picture is even worse in higher education: Universities (both state and central), IITs, NITs, IIMs are all suffering crippling shortages of teachers. According to the government records, the institutes of higher learning under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) face a faculty shortage to an extent of 35%. Even the top institutions of higher education are facing faculty crunch, IITs have 39% vacancies and Central Universities follow with 38%. In all the central universities, 1,277 positions for the post of professor (or 53% of the total sanctioned positions); 2,173 for associate professor (46%); and 2,478 for assistant professor (26%) are vacant. Even Delhi University (DU), some 60% of faculty positions at the university are vacant. The situation of state universities and colleges affiliated to them is worse and beyond imagination.

The government is continuously bringing various notifications through UGC and MHRD which is bringing education more towards central list undermining the rights of the states. The Central University Act, NEET, RUSA, Central Syllabus, etc. are such efforts which are aimed at more central control on education.

The BJP government is pushing its Hindutva agenda in education sector, especially through the changes in textbooks. These changes range from distortion of historical facts to teaching of pseudoscience. Various attempts are there to give textbooks a colour of Hindutva. Numerous appointments are there of heads of different universities, educational and research institutes, who are vigorously implementing the agenda of RSS. This is the most dangerous aspects of the plans of Hindutva Brigade. They want to convert education institutions into the centres of training the minds of future generation to think, visualise and comprehend India as Hindu Rashtra, centres where minds will be trained to hate people from other communities, to establish so-called supremacy of one religion against the pluralistic character of real India of people from diverse cultures, castes, regions, languages, etc.

Apathy of the government towards public education can also be witnessed in the budgetary allocations and promises made in the education sector. While the education sector today requires massive expansion to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend, the present approach of this government will only lead to worsening of the quality in all spheres of education. India has decreased its spending on education from 4.4 per cent of GDP in 1999 to around 3.71 per cent. Most of the developed world, having a more mature education system than India and higher levels of GDP are even today spending around 4.5 to 6 of GDP on education sector.

The education sector has seen remarkable reduction of budgetary allocations during the Modi regime. This downward spiral started from the first budget itself, which the Modi government presented.  For the Department of School Education and Literacy, the Modi government spent Rs 45,722 crore in 2014-15, down by Rs 1,134 crore over the previous year (UPA’s last year). Then in 2015-16, Rs 42,187 crore is estimated to have been spent (revised estimates), further down by Rs 3,535 crore. Clearly during last three years, the government is pushing the agenda of triple ‘C’ in education system i.e. commercialisation, centralisation and communalisation.

State of Democracy on Campuses

Basic ideology of the BJP and the RSS is against any kind of democratic process. This is visible in the functioning of the central government. This government takes most of its decisions through ordinance only and very less time is spent in Parliament debates. Our Prime Minister and other central ministers are not keen to participate in the Parliament debates. TheBJP government is adopting the same understanding in the educational institutions. There is an all-round attack on the education institutions, especially universities. Our campuses are being converted into police stations in the name of providing security. The UGC through notification have asked all the universities to establish police station inside the campus, along with various other anti-democratic measures. The real aim of all these steps is to control student politics. Instead of addressing the genuine issues raised by the students, the central government is attacking the democratic culture of the campuses. Even students are being arrested for critical posts on social media. There are planned conspiracies in various universities to attack the democratic spaces of campuses and in all these incidents, ABVP was a close ally of the government and administration. We have witnessed these types of attacks at IIT-Chennai, FTII-Pune, HCU, JNU, among others.  

There are physical attacks as well as ideological attacks on campuses by the BJP government. In the name of love for nation and nationalism, all sorts of discontent are considered as anti-national. There is a kind of environment in which either you are on government side or will be declared anti-national. Autonomy of all the universities is in danger as autonomous decision making bodies of the universities are under scanner. Vice-chancellors who are appointed by their political patrons are undermining the democratic meetings and even bypassing the meetings. Typical example is academic council meetings of JNU, where the vice-chancellor is trying to dictate his opinion and take decisions unilaterally despite strong resistance by other faculty members. If this can happen in JNU, situation of other campuses can be imagined.

Student union elections are not being conducted in most of the campuses. Where elections are conducted, elected unions are not invited in the policy making process. Union leaders are met with various false cases and are being victimised. This attack on the democracy on campuses is lead and monitored by the ministers who are preaching students to not involve in student politics in public meetings and through media.

The incidences of suicides have increased in educational institutions which reflect the anti-democratic environment of the campuses. In most of the campuses, the administration is found directly involved in creating such conditions. In HCU, there was a direct involvement of the vice-chancellor and other government ministers to create such an environment which forced Rohit Vemula to end his life. In Nehru College of Trishur district, the chairperson and vice-principal are charged with direct involvement for suicide of Jishnu Pranoy and booked in police charge sheet. Girls are not safe in the education institutions. There are incidents of sexual harassment, rape and murder of girl students on campuses.

The central government is trying to convert our education institutions into Gurukuls of their ideology having no space for democracy, where students will be converted into blind followers who will not question the caste or Varna system and will follow the dictates of the ruling class.

Attacks on Social Justice

Education is widely recognised as a potent tool for the “socio-economic mobility” of the vulnerable sections of the economy. But our central government seems to forget this fact and is implementing the policies which are affecting the students coming from socially deprived sections. Prime indication of government priority is allocation in budget. This year (2017-18), the budgetary outlay for SCs and STs are 2.4% and 1.2% of the total outlay respectively, both of which are far less than their share in population. Similarly, the gender budget spending is merely 5.3% of the outlay, which again is far less than the prescribed 30%.

These budget cuts have had direct impact on the students from the marginalised sections. In the last two years, we have seen steep fee hikes in numerous government institutions.  The fees for B.Tech courses in IITs have been increased from Rs 90,000 per annum to Rs 2 lakh per annum. The application fees for the CSIR-NET examinations saw a massive increase of 250%. It is not possible for the students from the socially deprived sections to pay these huge amounts of fees, hence most of them are forced to leave education.

“I have to get seven months of my fellowship, one lakh and seventy-five thousand rupees. Please see to it that my family is paid that,” wrote Rohith Vemula in his suicide note. This is only a reflection of how the delays in government-sponsored scholarships drive the students from Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe (SC/ST) communities into desperation. There have also been numerous incidents of caste-based violence and brutal attacks on dalits and tribals in last two years.

Struggle for Pro-student Education Policy

It needs no reiteration that educational institutions today have become sites of neo-liberal planning and execution of its business game plan. Privatisation has been on anvil for quite some time now and it is justified by the argument that it improves the quality of education and enhances the efficiency of teachers as well as students. This phenomenon is visible in the way the spread of private educational institutions has been happening.

We are opposed to this understanding of privatised and commercialised education. Over the years, this vision has failed to fulfil the requirements of the public of India. India needs a strong public sphere of education. The student community is demanding control and check on these private institutions. We were hoping that the proposed new education policy of the BJP government will deal with this crucial need of ours. In fact, there is no proposed mechanism to monitor and check the private institutions. The student community is demanding for long to bring a central legislation to monitor the admission process and fee structure of private institutions but there is no mention of such provision in the draft. This new education policy is nothing but only a new document advocating commercialisation, centralisation and communalisation of education.

Students of the country are in a struggle for a pro-student education policy focussed on addressing the needs and requirements of the Indian education system. This education policy can only be evolved by the active participation of teachers, academicians and students, and not by the dictates of the RSS headquarter in Nagpur. For last two years, we have seen militant struggle against fee hike, to have state control on private institutions, for social justice, in defence of democracy.

The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) is in forefront of all these struggles. On March 3, thousands of the students will be marching to Delhi against the attacks on education, democracy and social justice and for a pro-student education policy. This march is happening not only against the RSS-BJP’s assaults on the autonomy, democracy, education and employment. It is to reassert the alternative vision of education for a better India. At a time when the Hindutva combine is attacking the very foundations of our education system to further its ideological agenda, it becomes very important that we build a movement with a positive agenda.