Hundreds in India’s capital, New Delhi, have rallied in support of the students from a prestigious public university, who have been protesting against proposed increases in housing and other charges for weeks.
The demonstrators on Saturday chanted slogans such as “Affordable education for all” and “Fight for your rights” amid concerns the rise in hostel and mess charges announced last month at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) would make education there unaffordable for most students.
Calling the government “anti-poor”, the protesters tried to march towards India’s parliament building, barely 3km away, but were stopped by a huge contingent of police force.
The protests began in late October after the rent in JNU for a single-occupancy room was increased to the equivalent of $8 a month from less than $1, while the security deposit in hostels was doubled to nearly $160.
The JNU Students’ Union, which has been leading the protests, said nearly half of the university’s students belonged to families with less than 144,000 rupees ($2,018) of annual income and would find it difficult to study further.
“This fee hike is unacceptable,” Lata Kumari, a doctoral student in JNU, told Al Jazeera during the protest.
The students are also protesting against what they called “regressive” hostel rules regarding what they wear or restrictions on going out. They have been demanding that the vice chancellor should be sacked for taking such “anti-student measures”.
India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, which oversees public universities, has appointed a three-member committee to address the students’ concerns.
‘Higher education for all’
On Saturday, the protesters from JNU were joined by students from other universities in New Delhi as well as other activists.
“The fee hike announced by the administration would deprive about 80 percent of students from quality education as most people in our country cannot afford to pay such high fees,” said Yogendra Yadav, a
former JNU student and president of Swaraj India party.
Yadav said the JNU students have raised “a larger question: will people have equal rights to higher education in India or not?”
Saswati Sengupta, who teaches at New Delhi’s Miranda House College, told Al Jazeera that right to education “should not be based on the strength of the money a person has”.
“This [education] is a right we deserve to give to everyone after more than 70 years of independence now,” she said.
Veteran theatre personality Maharaj Krishna Raina, who also marched with the protesters, said he was there since he was concerned about “the future of India’s poor people”.
“If higher education is not made possible for the poor and the marginalised people, this nation has no business to exist,” he said.
On Monday, nearly 100 JNU students were detained when they tried to march from the university campus to India’s parliament.
The JNU Students’ Union said dozens of students in that rally were attacked by the police.
On Friday, representatives of the students’ union met members of the committee formed by the government to look into the JNU crisis.
After the meeting, the students said their protest will continue until the charges are completely rolled back.
At their protest on Saturday, JNU Students’ Union president Aishe Ghosh told Al Jazeera that fee rise was not only a JNU issue.
“It is being faced by all the top universities in India,” she said. “How to channelise this [protest] into a national movement is what we are looking into now.”