Sitting on a dharna in front of the Student Union office at Allahabad University, a section of protesters is listening on mobile phones to a live telecast from the Uttar Pradesh Assembly of Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav who led a walkout against fee hike at the varsity demanding attention towards the issues raised by the students.
Soon after, other students point out as how Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Jayant Chaudhary and BSP supremo Mayawati have also come out in their support.
While classes, lectures and even oral examinations are going on as usual on rest of the campus, the protesting students sitting in two groups at a distance of a few meters are though divided by political affiliations claim to be united on the common cause.
Whereas one protesting group mainly consists of members of the NSUI and the Samajwadi Party’s Chhatra Sabha, claiming that their protest has reached eighteenth day, the other under the banner of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of RSS, claims to be protesting for the past 12 days.
The ABVP members claim to have given memorandums to sitting BJP MPs from the region seeking their support on the issue.
Demanding withdrawal of fee hike, some students even got their heads shaved on Friday as a mark of protest. Those protesting under the banner of ABVP claimed that their protest was “Gandhian” and peaceful.
“Most of us come from rural background. Our parents sent us to study while facing hardships. Many of us are first in our families to pursue higher studies. The university caters to not just the entire state but students from Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, who could not afford hefty fees charged by private colleges,” said Akhilesh, vice-president of the varsity’s last student union and an NSUI office-bearer.
Sitting next to him was Ajay Yadav, a student of LLB who is associated with the Samajwadi Chatra Sabha.
He says, “Government officials were sent to our houses to pressurise our parents but we would not budge. The issue is beyond political lines. A large number of students would not be able to bear the burden of this sudden hike. The varsity is known for imparting good education for a minimum fee.”
The students claim that the fee hike is not limited to courses and even the annual hostel fee, which used to be nearly Rs 14,500, has been increased to about Rs 45,000.
Karitke Pati Tripathi, who claims to be an ABVP office-bearer, says, “There are no facilities at the hostels. There are no servant blocks as they used to be before the Covid-19 outbreak. Students have to arrange for cleaning or do it on their own. Neither the administration nor the university administration is ready for a healthy dialogue.”
Vikram Harijan, an assistant professor at the Department of Medieval History, has offered his support to the students. Once a student of Jawaharlal University in Delhi, the professor, Harijan says that he is aware of the outcomes but decided to support a group of students because he himself faced hardships as a student as his father was a “bonded labourer” and had to bear the burden of the entire family. “I am not afraid of notices and would reply
accordingly,” he says.
Amid attempts to put the admissions back on the track, the university authorities said earlier in the day that “only some elements with vested interests” were protesting. “A great hue and cry is being made about four-time fee hike of students who will be admitted in the 2022-23 academic session. Facts that have not been discussed about the fee hike must be known to the students as well as the general public,” they claimed.
The university claimed that in the past 50 years, the percentage of fee of a student taking admission has dropped below 1 per cent of the total expenditure and that it is the room rent, coaching fee, travelling expenses and food which are hurting them the most.
As why the university cannot have more hostels, food halls and coaching classes at subsidised rates, the authorities maintained that it is because those who live in hostels do not make payment for food, electricity dues etc.
Vice-Chancellor Sangita Srivastava said the annual fee per student remained Rs 975 for several decades and it was just Rs 81 a month. “The fee has been hiked to Rs 4,151 a year. It comes to Rs 333 a month. The hike was effected after thorough deliberations by the finance committee, academic council and the executive council.”
Denying 400% hike in fee, she said that only 30-40 students have chosen to cause disruption on the campus. Claiming that the fee hike was announced to combat inflation, she promised to waive entire the fee of the poor and those orphaned due to Covid-19.\