It has been close to three months since the #OccupyUGC movement started as a spontaneous response of students to UGC’s utterly rash decision of discontinuation of the non-NET fellowship scheme. Due to our sustained protests, the government was forced to go on a backfoot, as matter was passed on to MHRD which then passed on the matter to a review committee. However, no news from either the MHRD, the UGC or the review committee has arrived and a clear-cut position on the status of the non-NET fellowship has not been communicated to us, thus far. On the 5th of November, 2015 the HRD Minister, Smriti Irani had given certain reassurances. However, the reassurances mean nothing until the MHRD comes up with an order that fellowship will be enhanced and expanded. She had also assured us of representation before the review committee, but far from representation, for a month, we were not even given an appointment with the MHRD. On the 13th of January, 2016 when we finally blocked the road in front of MHRD, we were given an audience with officials in the MHRD, but the Minister did not meet us. We were put in touch with the review committee which was supposed to have its meeting on 16th January, as told by the head of the committee himself to the media. However, when we called him to ask about the status of the committee, we were told that there is no meeting on the 16th of January, and no alternative date for any meeting was communicated. All this clearly shows the extremely irresponsible attitude of the government towards students’ issues and complete lack of accountability of the UGC and the MHRD.
The indefinite delay on part of the government is completely unjustified and intolerable. Students across the country are getting impatient and, until a clear order from the MHRD, agreeing to our demands is brought out, we will keep intensifying the movement. After discussions with students across the country, we have come up with a plan for a second, more intensified round of nationwide programmes that will be taken up over the next one month.
1) A nationwide signature campaign will be started on the 18th of January, 2016 reiterating our demands for increase in the amount of non-NET fellowship and expansion of the non-NET scheme to state universities without any exclusionary criteria, for all research scholars. Also, the signature campaign will raise the demand that budgetary allocation for education be increased to 10 per cent in the upcoming budget session, as fund-cuts in education under World Bank and WTO diktats are ruining the education system of our country.
2) The signature campaign will conclude by the 15th of February, 2016 and students from all Universities can send the signatures sheets to JNU Students’ Union office till 17th February, 2016. The signatures will be submitted to the MHRD, the President of India and the Prime Minister of India. The signature campaign will also run online, to ensure maximum participation.
3) Occupy UGC calls for an All-India University Strike on the 18th of February, 2016 in all central and state universities, demanding adequate funds for research fellowships. On the day of the strike, the signatures collected thus far will be submitted to the MHRD.
Shehla Rashid, Vice-President of JNUSU said, “We will take the campaign for increase and expansion of fellowships to all parts of the country. We will campaign across universities and expose the politics of fund-cuts, which is the root of all problems being faced by students today, from hostel crisis to decrease in fellowships.”
Ashutosh Kumar, State Secretary of AISA and former JNUSU President, said, “Both the UPA and the NDA governments have ignored the education sector and this is deeply harming our national interest and development. Occupy UGC is a movement against fund-cuts in education and we will campaign for increase in education budget in the upcoming budget session.”
Shehla Rashid is vice-president Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU).