At the call of DUTA-FEDCUTA (Delhi University Teachers Association-Federation of Central Universities Teachers Associations), tens of thousands of students and teachers held a militant protest march in New Delhi, from Mandi House to Parliament, on March 28. Students and teachers from nearly all colleges and departments of Delhi University attended the protest march. Teachers and students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Milia Islamia University, Ambedkar University and Aligarh Muslim University were also present in large numbers. Several students and youth organisations participated with their banners, including AISF, SFI, AISA, CYSS, KYS, etc. The protestors raised slogans denouncing the so-called Graded Autonomy Scheme announced by the government as a step towards increasing privatisation of higher education. They held placards in their hands bearing slogans such as "Stop commercialisation of education!", "Higher education is our right!", "We ask for our rights, not for your favours!", "Stop playing with the future of our youth!", etc.
At Mandi House, leaders of DUTA-FEDCUTA and other activist-leaders addressed the protesting teachers and students. Speakers included General Secretary of AITUC, Comrade Amarjit Kaur, former DUTA President A.N.Mishra, Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, Shri Manish Sisodia, leaders of teachers associations of several colleges, Comrade Sucharita of Lok Raj Sangathan, etc.
Raising militant slogans as they proceeded towards Parliament, the demonstrators drew attention of passers-by to their concerns and demands. At the Parliament, they were greeted by a huge stage decorated with banners highlighting their demands. Leaders of various political parties and youth organisations gave rousing speeches, calling upon the teachers and students to strengthen their unity and take the struggle forward.
The central government recently announced the Graded Autonomy Scheme, according to which it will grant autonomy to 60 institutions of higher education, including 5 central universities, 21 state universities, 24 deemed universities and 2 private universities, as well as 8 colleges. This will be implemented through the University Grant Commission (UGC). Teachers and students of Delhi University and JNU have been protesting against this. They have condemned it as a blatant attempt to promote privatization of higher education.
The DUTA held a week-long protest on the campus, while similar protest actions by students and teachers have been reported from the different colleges of Delhi University. The JNU students and teachers have also been holding protests on campus and organized a march to Parliament on March 23, which was brutally attacked by the police (see below). Taking the agitation forward, the JNUTA decided to continue the strike on the university campus till March 28. Protest actions continue to be organized on other university campuses as well.
A petition signed by the protesting teachers clearly explains the reasons why this scheme is being opposed. In the name of ‘autonomy’, the government is drastically cutting down the spending on higher education and abdicating its responsibility towards the youth of our country. University managements and administrations are being given a free hand to raise fees and launch private self-financing courses, off-campus centres, etc., which will charge exorbitant fees. According to this scheme, institutions are expected to raise 30 per cent of additional expenses on revision of salaries due to the 7th Pay Commission Revision. This will be done by raising the fees of the students, making higher education unaffordable for vast sections of our youth. Regulations regarding quality of education and adequacy of education infrastructure are being relaxed.
The new policy compels autonomous institutions to reserve 20 per cent of its faculty positions for foreign academia and 20 per cent student seats for foreign students. The foreign academia will certainly command much higher salaries, while the foreign students can be charged much higher fees. This is being done at a time when the majority of the universities are facing acute shortage of faculty and appointments of teachers are not being held for months and even years, while ad-hoc teachers battle terrible job insecurity and other oppressive conditions. In many colleges, teachers are not even being paid their salaries regularly, causing them enormous hardship.
Under the new policy, academic and student councils, which provided an avenue for teachers and students to voice their grievances and put forward their demands, will be replaced by bodies more directly controlled by the authorities.