Students across all four campuses of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) are sitting in protest against what they perceive is “a direct attack on social justice”.
The TISS administration recently announced its decision to withdraw a fee-waiver offered to the SC, ST and OBC students eligible for the Centre's Post Matric Scholarship (GOI-PMS). The policy was made mandatory for the students falling under the OBC category in 2015.
TISS has campuses in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Guwahati and Tuljapur.
According to the administration’s recent decision, the students who fall under this category and were earlier funded by the university, will now have to pay the same fee as those belonging to the “open” category, which includes tuition fees, dining hall fee and hostel fee.
In response, the students have been sloganeering and boycotting classes since 21 February, and in TISS Hyderabad, six students even reportedly held a hunger strike on 27 February.
Hunger Strike at TISS Hyderabad
Other than the demand for the administration to reinstate the fee-waiver that was offered to the SC/ST/OBC students under the GOI-PMS Scholarship, the main demand behind the hunger-strike was for the acting director of TISS, who they say have never visited them in the Hyderabad campus, to visit and simply hear them out.
In response, the Acting Director Shalini Bharat reportedly visited the campus on the same day. However, as Arjun Mukherjee, Secretary of the Student Union at TISS Hyderabad, told The Quint, the fact that it took students to sit for a hunger strike for the administration to take note was something that needed to be questioned.
Is it right that we have to protest in order to get our own administration to hear us out?It is our basic right to reach out to the director, acting director or registrar whenever we want.Arjun Mukherjee, Student Union Secretary, TISS Hyderabad
New Strategies of Protest at TISS Mumbai
In TISS Mumbai, students were devising new strategies to get the attention of both the government and the TISS administration.
Before the start of the protests on 21 February, the students said they had approached both the administration and the academic council on multiple occasions, requesting them to hear out their demands. They had also drafted a mail that stated their demands to the chairman of the governing council, but had received little to no response from all the parties.
This is a premier institute of social justice, and they have always inculcated the policy of inclusiveness. So why is TISS unable to restore this concept of social justice?Archana Soreng, TISS Student Union President
The only argument that the TISS administration presented them with was that they were not receiving the necessary funds from the UGC for them to carry on offering these fee-waivers to the students eligible for the GoI-PMS scholarship.
In the Guwahati and Tuljapur campuses too, students have been agitating against the administration’s decision, worried about their academic futures at the university if it didn’t get revoked.
How Will the Policy Affect Students?
The Quint spoke to several of the students across the four campuses, who stood to get directly affected by the administration’s decision to revoke the fee-waiver. Many of them hail from families which have an annual income between Rs 1 lakh and 2 lakh.
For the students whose family’s monthly salary is less than Rs 30,000 a month, it is impossible for them to pay the full fee of Rs 72,000-Rs 76,000 (rounded up) for a single semester.
While some of them viewed this move by the government and in turn the administration as one to discourage the social, economic and academic progress of the minority classes, others believe it to be a direct indication of privatisation of education.
If I don’t get financial assistance from the government or the institute, It will be very difficult for me to come here and get the education I aspire. If the authorities in charge do not act now, it is a direct indication of privatisation of education. And you are again standing for the elite classes and not the poor.Archana, a student at TISS Mumbai
While the students continue their protests for the administration to resume their fee-waiver for the students eligible for the GoI-PMS scholarship, they battle with the daily fear that if the policy holds through, they may be forced to drop out of the institution completely.
I can’t concentrate on anything, because I am so worried about my career, my future and society. I can almost see my dreams crashing down before my very eyes.Kartik, a student at TISS Guwahati