Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Onwards to the Academic Council Meeting

Following the JNU administration’s refusal to accept any of the key demands of the student community, the latter has been forced to intensify the ongoing struggle under the leadership of the JNUSU. Sixteen students have begun Indefinite Hunger Strike, and a number of others are on relay hunger strike since yesterday night. The Academic Council of the University is scheduled to meet on the 30th of this month, and the hunger strike and other protest actions in the coming days must lead to concrete advances on a number of outstanding issues that require urgent attention and redressal.

Integrating the Sachar Committee and Ranganath Mishra Commission Recommendations in JNU’s Admission Policy

The report of the High Level Committee headed by Justice Rajinder Sachar, tabled in the Lok Sabha in 2006, reconfirmed with the help of concrete facts and figures what was already known – the Muslims of our country face acute socio-economic and educational backwardness. The Report revealed that the Muslim minority has slipped below the SC/STs in several socio-economic and educational indicators. While the Committee made wide-ranging recommendations to redress this backwardness, the record of the UPA government in implementing its recommendations has been far from satisfactory. The outlay for schemes for minorities constituted a meagre 0.32% during the Eleventh plan. The Multi-Sectoral Development Programme for Minorities, in keeping with the government’s general approach of ‘targeting’ as opposed to universal rights, covered only 90 districts which account for a mere 35% of the Muslim population of the country.  The Ranganath Mishra Commission, which submitted its report in 2007, made significant recommendations, arguing that ‘positive discrimination on the ground of caste or religion coupled with other grounds such as social and educational backwardness is constitutionally permissible and, therefore, under a given circumstance it may be possible to treat a caste or religious group as a “class”.’ The Commission argued that “Since the minorities – especially the Muslims – are very much underrepresented, and sometimes wholly unrepresented, in government employment, we recommend that they should be regarded as backward in this respect within the meaning of that term as used in Article 16 (4) of the Constitution”. In this context, the Sangh Parivar agenda to wish away the backwardness faced by minorities alleging “break with the constitutional consensus” is not surprising, considering its record of leading communal pogroms directed against minorities throughout the country. Among other things, the Ranganath Mishra Commission had recommended 15% reservations for the backward minorities in education and jobs, with 10% earmarked for Muslims (commensurate with their 73 percent share of the former in the total minority population in the country) and the remaining 5% for other minorities. The Commission had also recommended that SC status be extended to all Dalit communities irrespective of religion. Implementing the recommendation to provide reservation to socially and economically backward minority communities without disturbing the present quota fixed for OBCs and SCs would necessitate that additional allocation be made from the open quota. But since the Supreme Court has ruled that the quota for reservation should not exceed 50 percent, a Constitutional amendment would be necessary to provide for reservation above 50 percent.

SFI fully supports the demand to make the Constitutional amendments that are necessary in this regard in order to extend reservations to the backward minority communities. JNU’s progressive system of deprivation points in admissions has historically preceded the provision of reservations for OBCs in India. On the issue of affirmative action for backward minority communities too, JNU should lead the way by providing for interim measures until the requisite constitutional amendments are made to provide reservation. The provision of five deprivation points for backward minorities as identified by the Ranganath Mishra Commission, the majority among whom belongs to the Muslim community, would be an important step in this regard, and needs to be fought for until its logical conclusion.

End Discrimination in JNU Entrance Viva Voce!

Until 1983, the students had a say in the admission procedure of JNU through the Student-Faculty Committees (SFCs), which were empowered to scrutinise the entrance tests and to finalise the results. A student member of the SFC used to be present as an observer when the viva voce was held to ensure that discrimination or harassment did not occur. A very important upshot of the Old Admission Policy (OAP) was that the representation of students from the deprived sections was more than the proportions mandated by the Constitution later on. It was the alarm of the ruling classes in the increased empowerment of the deprived sections that led to the scrapping of the OAP in 1983, when there was a brutal police crackdown on student activists in an attempt to break the back of student militancy. With the scrapping of the OAP and the consequent end to the presence of the SFCs in the viva voce, instances of social discrimination in the viva process increased significantly. As we have repeatedly emphasised in the past few months, any genuine effort to prevent social discrimination in the viva voce must entail not only the reduction of the weightage given to viva voce, but also bringing back the role of the SFCs in sitting through the viva process.  The Equal Opportunity Office (EOO) – with student representation – may coordinate with the SFCs in this regard to monitor the admission process. This could go a long way in not only preventing discrimination, but also in affirming the role that the viva voce ought to play. After all, the viva voce process, by facilitating the evaluation of research proposals and assessment of the research aptitude of candidates, performs an important function in retaining the character of JNU as a university which gives utmost importance to research.

Build New Hostels!

The hostel crisis in the university is very far from over. As it stands now, 481 students – 389 boys and 92 girls – in JNU are yet to get hostels. While demanding that more students be allowed to stay as SR/TR and that the facilities in dormitories be improved are important, these are by no means sufficient. Facilities like SR/TR and dormitories are makeshift arrangements; they are not substitutes for hostel rooms. Getting a hostel room is a right, not a privilege. An uncompromising struggle to fulfil the demand to build new hostels has to be waged, and the administration must be forced to commit to begin the construction of at least two new hostels – one for boys and one for girls, or two mixed hostels – in the very first year of the 12th Five Year Plan (i.e. the current year, 2012-13) and to complete their construction in a time-bound manner. The JNUSU cannot casually remain satisfied with the promises of the administration regarding “seven new hostels”(as claimed by the four-page pamphlet issued by AISA a few days ago), when the reality is that not even a brick has been laid for the. Since it will take some time for new hostels to be built, alternatives must also be explored to address the accommodation crisis in the immediate. Options such as renting out private accommodation and examining the possibility of accommodating students in vacant faculty quarters etc needs to be explored.

Increase MCM Scholarships!!

The MCM scholarships were increased from Rs. 600 to Rs. 1500 in 2006 after a valiant struggle by the JNUSU, and have not been increased ever since. Living expenses have increased steeply during the past six years. The survey by the SFI-led JNUSU which became the basis for the JNUSU’s demand that the MCM scholarship should be raised to Rs. 1500 was carried out in March 2006. Prices measured by the Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers in Delhi have gone up by 63.87% between March 2006 and August 2012 (the latest month for which figures are available). Further, the establishment charges in JNU hostels have gone up, and the cap in the number of subsidised LPG cylinders is set to cause a hike in the hostel mess bills by about Rs. 170 – Rs. 200. Thus the MCM amount needs to be raised by at least Rs.1200 to account for the increase in the living expenses alone. Along with the increase in the MCM amount, the administration must be forced to link it to inflation in order to compensate for future price increases. A corpus fund should be established by the University to ensure the timely disbursement of scholarships regardless of the delay in arrival of funds from concerned departments or agencies. There is also an urgent need to extend scholarships for Ph.D. students to the final year. It needs to be ensured that PhD students get scholarships during the most crucial time of their research. Further, all SC/ST research students should be given Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship, and steps should be taken to increase the number of Maulana Azad Scholarships being offered to JNU students.

Menon Committee Recommendations

Yesterday’s JNUSU pamphlet says, “the JNU administration is once more proposing to table the highly problematic Menon Committee report in the upcoming AC meeting. This report has several seriously problematic clauses which could jeopardize the academic careers of students from deprived backgrounds – it proposes certain changes in eligibility criteria for SC/ST students which are not acceptable to the student community, amongst certain other problematic clauses.” When a report with such serious ramifications was being discussed by the Schools, the JNUSU should have built up opinion among the students and teachers against the problematic recommendations of the Committee. The previous AISA-led JNUSU cannot disown its responsibility in having not done so. The student community has to remain vigilant and defeat any anti-student move on the part of the administration in pushing through the recommendations of the Committee.

Kopal, Siddik, Subin, Viswanathan 
(For the SFI Unit Organising Committee, JNU)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Onwards to the Academic Council Meeting: On Some Pertinent Issues facing the Student Community

Build New Hostels!! 

The JNUSU had called for a protest demonstration at the Dean of Students Office a few days back to press for various demands. Assurances were given then that new hostel lists would be coming out soon. At that time, out of a total of 2027 students belonging to the Priority-I (P-I) category who had applied for hostels, 617 students were yet to get a hostel. A new list did come out subsequently, according to which 136 boys have been allotted hostels. Thus, as it stands now, 481 students have not got hostels. Out of these, 389 are boys and 92 are girls. In other words, the hostel crisis is very far from over. While demanding that more students be allowed to stay as SR/TR and that the facilities in dormitories be improved are important, these are by no means sufficient. Facilities like SR/TR and dormitories are makeshift arrangements; they are not substitutes for hostel rooms, and cannot be deemed as facilities meant for students to stay permanently. Getting a hostel room is a right, not a privilege. In this context, the administration needs to come clear on some basic questions. What is the estimate of the number of rooms that can be made available to students in this semester? Is that number sufficient to accommodate at least all the outstation students? If, as all indications suggest, the answer to this last question is “No”, what alternative plans have been formulated to solve the accommodation crisis and to provide decent living facilities for students. 

Of course, the Union and most student organisations have already demanded that more hostels be built, but we have to wage an uncompromising struggle to fulfil the demand. The administration has to be forced to commit to begin and complete the construction of new hostels in a time-bound manner. The JNUSU cannot casually remain satisfied with the promises of the administration – struggles which result in concrete written agreements need to be fought in this regard. Since it will take some time for new hostels to be built, alternatives must also be explored to address the accommodation crisis in the immediate. We have past examples to look up to – in the wake of the militant struggle for more hostels in 1998-1999 which forced the administration to build four new hostels, temporary accommodation was provided to the students in Mahanadi hostel and in private accommodation facilities outside the campus. Renting out private accommodation once again is very much a feasible option. Moreover, today in our campus there are many spacious faculty quarters which are lying vacant. The possibility of accommodating students who have not got hostels in such places on a temporary basis needs to be explored on an urgent basis. It is in fact troubling that the demand for such alternative arrangements has not got prominent mention in the demands raised by the JNUSU so far.

The Impending Hike in Mess Bills

The recently announced “big ticket” reforms by the UPA-II government, which include, among others, hikes in the prices of diesel and cooking gas which will cause all-round rises in prices and the cap imposed on the number of LPG cylinders made available at subsidized rates, have caused untold distress to the people of the country. The adverse effect of the decision to restrict the number of subsidised LPG cylinders is already being felt by students all across India.
In Delhi, the rate at which LPG cylinders are made available to hostels has gone up by a whopping Rs. 676 rupees – the current rate is Rs. 1075 per cylinder compared to the earlier Rs 399 per cylinder. Hostels and schools have been included in the “non-domestic” category, which means that they will be forced to pay rates that are far higher than the rate paid by domestic consumers even on non-subsidised cylinders. The implications of these rate hikes are immediate and grievous. Most hostels in our campus use about 80-90 LPG cylinders every month, and the hostel mess bills are set to go up by about Rs 170 – Rs 200 per student. Such increases in living expenses in a context of rising prices overall will increase the hardships of students, especially those belonging to deprived backgrounds. The administration must take immediate steps to address this issue, by subsidising the extra expenses incurred on cylinders and by increasing the amount and number of scholarships.

Elsewhere in the country, mid-day meal schemes have been seriously affected, and hostels adversely affected by the LPG rate hike include numerous SC/ST/BC hostels with millions of residents. Among non-hostellers, more students would be going hungry as a result of this retrograde decision. The overall result would be that the dropout rates of students, particularly that of those belonging to deprived sections, would rise steeply, and education would become increasingly the preserve of the elite minority. According to the CAG’s Performance Audit Report on JNU submitted in the Parliament in 2012, the proportion of students who dropped out of / failed in BA (Hons.) courses ranged between 35 to 48 percent. In MA/M.Sc./MCA courses, this was between 18 to 22 percent. In five undergraduate courses, the percentage of student dropout during the first year was in the range of 19 to 64 per cent and in respect of postgraduate courses in four centres, it was in the range of 15 to 82 per cent. The increase in living expenses would certainly worsen the dropout rates in JNU.

Increase Scholarships!!

The impending hike in mess bills makes it all the more important that the amount and number of scholarships be increased. The MCM scholarships were increased from Rs. 600 to Rs. 1500 in 2006 after a valiant struggle by the JNUSU, and have not been increased ever since. The administration must be forced to increase the MCM amount and to link it to inflation. A corpus fund should be established by the University to ensure the timely disbursement of scholarships regardless of the delay in arrival of funds from concerned departments or agencies. Measures to avoid delays in the disbursal of scholarships (due to avoidable delays in issuing office orders, transferring scholarship amounts to accounts etc) must be taken. All SC/ST research students should be given Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship. The number of Maulana Azad Scholarships being offered to JNU students needs to be increased. There is also an urgent need to extend scholarships for Ph.D. students to the final year. Currently Ph.D. students get scholarships like JRF and non-NET UGC scholarships only till the third year, and it needs to be ensured that they get scholarships during the most crucial time of their research.

Kopal, Umesh, Subin (For the SFI Unit Organising Committee, JNU)

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Join Public Meeting on "A Decade since the Gujarat Pogrom" - SFI Pamphlet dated 11.10.2012

 “I don’t know who this person is. 
But I have been told that she is a very controversial person.”

― This is what the Senior Warden of Mahi-Mandavi said about Teesta Setalvad as his justification for denying permission to hold tonight’s SFI public meeting in the Mahi-Mandavi mess. The issue of the Gujarat carnage is too “sensitive”, he claimed. Yes, the issue is a sensitive one. It indeed is an issue of concern, outrage, sorrow and anger that thousands of Muslims were butchered by communal fascists in Gujarat ten years ago. The way to address such issues is not to sweep them under the carpet; the method to heal the wounds of those harrowing times is not to throttle discussions. The way forward is to ensure exemplary punishment to the butchers who planned and executed the pogrom, and there is no alternative to waging a relentless, uncompromising struggle against communal-fascism in pursuing this objective.
In the name of avoiding discord, the administration has been increasingly cracking down on democratic discussions in the campus, bowing to pressure from the majoritarian communal forces. After all, a Seminar Workshop on “Memorial to a Genocide – Gulberg Gujarat 2002-12” organised by the Citizens for Justice and Peace and Jamia Millia Islamia is scheduled to take place tomorrow at Jamia. It is a matter of outrage and shame that our campus, on the other hand, which is known for its commendable tradition of democratic debates, has been coming under the shackles of gag orders. It was only a few days ago that one student was suspended and three others served show-cause notices for merely initiating discussions regarding the non-availability of food items such as beef and pork (which are common, non-controversial food items in many parts of South India and the North-East and for many communities elsewhere) in the campus. It was after a prolonged hunger strike under the aegis of the CDRCF and several protest actions by the JNUSU that the suspension was revoked. But the fight against authoritarian attempts to muzzle the right to have discussions in a free and democratic environment is far from over, and will have to be taken forward to its logical conclusion.

Right-wing attacks on the democratic traditions of the campus have been increasing in the recent days, the latest one being the complaint filed by the communal ABVP against the JNUSU General Secretary. After indulging in hooliganism and having openly threatened women students with sexual violence, the ABVP has trained its guns on an elected student representative, going to the extent of demanding that his candidature be cancelled. SFI condemns such right-wing attacks on the democratic mandate of the student community. The administration, of course, has taken no action so far against the communal-fascist lumpens from the RSS/Bajrang Dal who showered abuses against minorities and distributed hate literature at the JNU North Gate earlier in September. This again is consistent with the administration’s pussyfooting on the issue of ensuring punishment to right-wing goons on earlier occasions too, such as its failure to punish the ABVP lumpens who unleashed violence during the Presidential Debate in 2007. The fight against the callous attitude of the JNU administration in shielding communal lumpens thus acquires utmost importance in the fight against the communal forces in the campus. We appeal to the JNUSU to make every effort to wage a united struggle to ensure punishment to the communal lumpens who indulged in hooliganism and threatened women students with sexual violence. 


Join Public Meeting on "A Decade since the Gujarat Pogrom"

Ten years have passed since the pogrom which claimed the lives of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat and brought starkly to light the fascist character of the communal forces which have been leading the Gujarat state government. These ten years have been years of constant and bitter struggle for the victims of the pogrom, and for those fighting by their side for the cause of justice and secularism. The struggle was not only against the communal-fascist forces leading the Gujarat government and the administrative apparatus including the police and the bureaucracy which placed many hurdles in their path, but also for a greater secularization of the Gujarat polity to ensure that such gruesome events do not recur.

The Narendra Modi government has used all means possible to obstruct the course of justice in the state. No stone has been left unturned – riot cases have not been registered by the police, the cases that have been registered have been shoddily investigated, public prosecutors have built weak cases in court so that riot accused could get off, witnesses and victims have been harassed and threatened both by the police and the accused who are most often supported by the ruling party, people fighting on the side of the riot victims have been defamed, threatened and false cases have been framed against them. In the face of this blatant support given to rioters during and after the carnage, the fight for justice has continued and resulted in some historic judgments. That the Best Bakery case in which fourteen people had been burnt to death reopened after a fast track court had initially acquitted all the accused was the result of constant pressure applied by the secular and democratic groups fighting for justice in the state. The Naroda Patiya case was also pursued to the very end by such activists and groups, resulting in the conviction of the former BJP minister, Maya Kodnani, and Bajrang Dal strong-man, Babu Bajrangi.

Following the 2002 pogrom, Gujarat has been left highly polarized and the Modi government has tried its best to maintain this polarization. Examples of this are the fake encounter cases which have come to light over the years immediately following the riots in which a number of top police officials as well as ministers of the Modi government have been indicted. Such fake encounters are used to create the myth of “Muslims as terrorists” and to drive a wedge between various communities. The claim is usually that a plan was being hatched to kill the Chief Minister as revenge for 2002 and pictures of 'Muslims as terrorists' are painted by the Government with the full support of the bourgeois press. To add to that the Modi government has tried to sidetrack all attempts to provide compensation for the victims of the carnage and has not budged even after a High Court order instructing the government to do so. On top of this, the state government has stalled the implementation of central government schemes in education for minority communities. These have led to increased and  continued communalization of society, which needs to be fought by the secular and democratic forces.
After the 2002 pogrom, the reactions from India and from all over the world ranged from outrage to sympathy to solidarity. But soon these voices became fewer and the victims were left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and to continue living in an environment which is highly polarized on a communal basis. It was in such conditions that committed activists like Teesta Setalvad and groups like Citizens for Justice and Peace took up the task of ensuring justice to the victims and restoring faith in the secular character of the Indian society. SFI stands in solidarity with the victims of the Gujarat pogrom and with those fighting with them, and salutes their commitment to the ideals of secularism and justice, and their courageous struggle against the communal forces.

Kopal, Sahil, Subin (for the SFI Unit Organising Committee, JNU)

Join Public Meeting on 
“A Decade since the Gujarat Pogrom: The Struggle for Justice and Secularism” 
Speaker: Teesta Setalvad, Prominent Activist against Communalism 

Tonight at 9.30 pm