Almost 2 Yrs After 'Fee Must Fall' Protests, Pondicherry Univ Debars 11 Students
A circular was issued stating that 11 students are debarred for admission to the university for the next 5 years.
Almost two years after the students of the Pondicherry University held protests against a proposed fee hike, the institute has issued an order debarring 11 students who were at the forefront of the “Fee Must Fall” movement.
A circular was issued on 17 December, stating that the students are debarred for admission to any course offered by the university for the next five years, starting from the academic year 2021-22. Moreover, they have also been banned from entering the varsity premises.
"The recommendations of the Disciplinary Committee have been approved by the competent authority for taking action against you for participating in the protest held on 06.02.2020 in the Administrative Building of Pondicherry University," read the letter.
In August, the students were issued a show-cause notice demanding an explanation for "unruly and unlawful behaviour" as they had gheraoed Vice-Chancellor Gurmeet Singh during the protest. Though the students had replied to the notice, there was no response from the university.
‘Protest Must Be Viewed as a Thoughtful Reflection on Student Rights'
For the last one week, members of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), representatives from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Communist Party of India (M), Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, and Dravidar Kazhagam have held demonstrations in front of the campus to register their opposition.
“This is a clear attempt to threaten the students from involving themselves in any democratic protest," said an SFI member.
One of the suspended students, Parichay Yadav, who is the former president of the Pondicherry Students' Council, told The Quint, “They have postponed the reopening because they must have preempted that students will mobilise support and protest. Students did gather outside the campus gates but there has been no response from the management so far."
The Pondicherry University Non-teaching Staff Welfare Association has urged Vice-Chancellor Gurmeet Singh to quash the recommendations of the Disciplinary Committee and revoke the order. In a letter addressed to Singh, the association president K Kaliaperumal said that the protests organised by the student community in February 2020 were not violent or irresponsible.
“Their protest must be viewed as a thoughtful reflection on student rights. But to our great dismay, the meaningful voice and concern of the students has not been heard properly and also not handled judiciously by the university administration.”Pondicherry University Non-teaching Staff Welfare Association
The association pointed out that there needs to be a statutory grievance redressal mechanism that will address the students’ concerns.
Amid unresolved grievances of the students, Yadav explains that it has become quite difficult to reach out to the vice-chancellor as well.
"Earlier it was a Congress government so we had access to the (Pudcherry) chief minister. But now with the government headed by the NR Congress in an alliance with the BJP, we don’t have the support that we earlier had," he says.
'Direct University to Withdraw Illegal Order:' TN MP to Union Min
Following opposition, Madurai Lok Sabha MP Su Venkatesan, on 28 December, urged the Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan to direct the central university to withdraw the ‘illegal and arbitrary’ order. In a letter addressed to Pradhan, Venkatesan said, "In a grave violation of democratic norms, not only did the Pondicherry University refuse to negotiate with the students’ council, they have gone ahead to victimise the students who were raising legitimate concerns."
He said that the university took advantage of the high court’s vacation so that its ‘arbitrary move’ could not be challenged. He also alleged that the university waited for the conclusion of the winter session of the Parliament before issuing show-case notices, making it impossible to raise the issue in the Parliament.
“The students were raising their voice on a matter adversely affecting their education, especially of students from weaker sections of the society. In such a scenario, the University was duty bound to take into account the impact of fees hike on the students. Instead, they have targeted the students in the most vindictive manner, which will endanger their future. It is also an attempt to curtail the freedom of expression of students on campus, which is their constitutional right."Madurai Lok Sabha MP Su Venkatesan
No Scholarship for Pondicherry Univ Students Involved in Protests
Of the 11 suspended students, six of them who were in the final year of their respective programmes last year were not allowed to write the exam as the authorities cited poor attendance. The students were optimistic that they would be allowed to finish the final leg of their course this year, but the recent notice debars them from writing the exam.
The suspended students who have completed their course have been directed to pay pay a fine of Rs 10,000 for receiving their degree certificates.
Further, the university sparked outrage on 22 May, after it issued a circular restricting scholarship to only those who have 70 percent attendance and have not participated in any protest during the semester.
The order triggered protests by the students, following which the notice was taken down from the website. The student council condemned the "undemocratic circular" and stated that this was "an attempt to curtail the freedom of expression of the students".
“This is a merit-based scholarship given by the university. Top three students from different departments get this scholarship based on merit on two conditions. One, the required attendance is 70 percent. Second criteria, the students who have protested in the university cannot get it. Now that is problematic and unconstitutional,” Parichay had told The Quint then.
A Hunger Strike That Started It All
It all started with a hunger strike in June 2019 when the fees for various courses was hiked up to the tune of 125%. For instance, the fees for the MBA course was Rs 74,200 earlier and the revised fee was Rs 1,45,335, a 95.9% increase. Similarly, fees for MSc/MTech (Computer Science) courses was Rs 31,300 and the revised fee was Rs 70,335, an increase of nearly 120%.
Later, the fee hike in MBA, MCA, MSc. Computer Science and PhD programmes was partially rolled back. Even after the students registered their concerns with the grievance committee, the fee structure was not altered for other programmes. In February 2020, hundreds of students undertook marches, boycotted classes, held sit-in demonstrations inside the campus, all in an effort to ‘Occupy Admin’ till the fee hike was revoked.
The student council members argued that the relentless fight was to ensure that public education was accessible and affordable for every student.
Students told The Quint that they were harassed by the departments and denied attendance as they participated in the protest.
Al Rishal Shanavas, the then executive member of the student council, had told The Quint hat this was “an attempt to wash out the marginalised sections".
And then, he had said, the rich people will be pumped in. "Money will be pumped into the institution. And if the rich come in, they won’t strike as they won’t have an issue with the fees or won’t care about anything much,” Shanavas had said.
The varsity had justified the fee hike by stating that for several years the fees remained the same. They had stated that the fee hike was also due to not receiving funds from the HRD ministry, which in turn had strained their finances to pay the faculty members.
There were multiple attempts made to reach out to the Pondicherry University authorities. However, none were available for comment.
While hundreds were involved in the protest, the eleven suspended students were the most active participants. The protest was called off after the matter went to the Madras High Court.
The verdict in the case remains pending.
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