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)

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