Students protesting in TISS, Mumbai
Students protesting in TISS, Mumbai| YouTube Screengrab
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Protests are being held on TISS campuses across India against cancellation of hostel and dining hall fees for students from marginalized communities.

Mumbai: The ongoing protests by students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences over a fee waiver issue seem to be getting a distinct political flavour with several Left-wing organisations extending support to them.

Since 21 February, TISS students have been staying out of classrooms, boycotting fieldwork and blocking the main gate demanding that the waiver for hostel and dining hall fees to students from marginalised communities, which was cancelled last year, be restored.

The protests are being held across TISS campuses in Mumbai, Tuljapur in Maharashtra, Guwahati, and Hyderabad, where some students have started a hunger strike, and alumni and faculty associations have also extended support.

Right outside the main gate at TISS Mumbai, protesting students have put up a poster that in bold saffron letters says, ‘BJP humse darti hain, TISS ke funds cut karti hain.’ (BJP is scared of us, it is cutting funds of TISS.)

Student leaders and people supporting the agitation were carrying placards saying ‘Shiksha pe jo kharcha hain, budget ka dasva hissa hain’ (the expenditure on education is a tenth of the budget) and raising slogans such as ‘yeh sarkar nahi chalegi’ (this government will not do) and ‘aarakshan hatega toh desh batega’ (scrapping of reservations will divide the country).

Beyond their immediate demands, students are also raising questions on larger issues such as the government’s move towards privatisation of education, reduced access to higher education for the marginalised communities and lack of sufficient funds for higher education.

Organisations that have shown solidarity with the protesting TISS students include JNU Students’ Union, the Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti, the youth wing of Aam Aadmi Party; and the All India Students Association, the student wing of the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.

Seen as an institution with socialist ideology, TISS states in its vision it will work towards creating a society that promotes and protects dignity, equality, social justice and human rights. In 2016, a large number of students, staff and faculty from TISS participated in strike by campuses across the nation in response to Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide.

Not a political matter, say students

TISS students insist that their protests are not political in nature and are only to get the waiver of hostel and dining fees, amounting to Rs 62,000 a year, back in place as it otherwise might lead to a large number of students from marginalised communities dropping out and avoiding applications to premier institutions like TISS.

“We are moving towards privatisation of education and the way decisions are being taken under this government is not right,” said Vikas Tatad, literary secretary of the TISS students’ body.

“But we don’t want to get into political issues here. Our main fight is with the TISS administration and the focus is to get the fee waiver for students eligible for Post-Matric scholarships reinstated.”

Meanwhile, the TISS administration has cited funds deficit as the reason for its inability to continue with the waiver of dining and hostel fees for ‘Post-Matric’ Scholarship students, who are from marginalised communities.

In a statement, the institute clarified that TISS has no role to play in the scholarship besides certifying bonafide students and that students otherwise apply and get the scholarship amount directly transferred to their accounts under the direct benefit transfer scheme.

The institute said, “In fact, it is TISS, which has been financially impacted, laden with dues of over Rs 20 crore since 2012-13, on account of exemption given to SC/ST students for tuition fees, hostel and dining hall charges under the Government of India’s Post Matric scholarship.

“Despite this, TISS is trying its best to provide all the facilities that students can expect from it,” it said.

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