#OccupyUGC, Kiang Nangbah College, NEHU & Student Politics in Meghalaya

On October 29th NEHUSU took a protest march and joined the #OccupyUGC movement with its hearbeat in the capital city of Delhi. Earlier the NEHUSU has threatened to “lock down” UGC related offices located in the campus. Until the time of this writing the movement has already entered its 25th day. So what is the significance of the movement? What we have come to understand is that the movement was born in opposition to the proposal from the University Grants Commission (UGC) to scrap Non-net fellowship for those pursuing research. The reasons cited by UGC are many including lack of transparency in the scholarship program. It also justifies the scrapping of the program, which has been running for years, by asserting the program is not fair to those who have NET and those who do not but continuing to receive financial support. These are fallacious assertions and have been reasonably countered from students, researchers and even University teachers. The students are agitating against the move to award research fellowship to meritorious students only. Moreover the students are demanding a hike in the scholarships for both Mphil and Phd program since lakhs of students particularly those from economically weaker background rely solely on scholarship to pursue higher education. The government desperate to quell the agitation has announced the continuation of the fellowship and even extend it further. But the government is silent on demands to raise the scholarship. The students are not buying it. The agitation has not been called off. On the other hand the strong mobilization of more students, universities and educational institutions has made the movement stronger than when it started.

#OccupyUGC protests in NEHU, Shillong
#OccupyUGC protests in NEHU, Shillong

The movement is not just against the UGC but against the policies of the ruling government at the centre run by the saffron party the BJP. The NDA government has already expressed its desire to de-prioritize education by initially cutting back its budgetary allocation. There was no indication however that the government would reduced public funding for research since more research means more development and innovation. This was an important election agenda of the NDA which is to speed development activities in the country. It is therefore shocking if not surprising for the government to reverse its promises. This is also an indication that the government is keen to privatize academic research which if materialized would amount to endorsing crony capitalism in the name of research. These thorny issues are isolated to just one corner of the country. NEHUSU must surely be aware of the significance of their protest. The Vice Chancellor was forced to leave a seminar mid way and meet the students personally while giving assurances to look into their grievances. NEHUSU should keep a watchful eye by keeping in touch with students groups across the country. There is no shortage of support only proper and sustained mobilization is needed.

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The movement has come to represent a struggle against the misplaced objectives of the government which is slowly donning it true colour. The student’s struggle for their rights spread like fire throughout the country and important educational institutions and Universities supported the cause. NEHUSU by endorsing the struggle has thrown in its weight behind the movement taking place all over the country. This kind of emotion spilling from one corner of the country to another has not been seen since the Anna Hazare led corruption movement against the UPA government. The continued protest against the governments arrogance matched those with other forms of protest such as the award wapasi led by writers, academicians, artist and film-makers against growing intolerance in the country ever since the present regime took over office last year. There are signs of deliberate saffronisation of educational institutions and curriculum. Some have taken the choice to return their national awards others have out rightly rejected the infiltration of hindutva ideas in the academic sphere. The case where the JNU academic council rejected the proposal from the government to introduced courses on Yoga and culture is a case in point.

North Eastern Hills University (NEHU) is one of the oldest universities in the eastern region of the country. Unlike other more established universities, JNU and DU for instance student politics in this campus is much mellowed if non existence. The space on national or international news and events do not enter the intellectual domain of the students in NEHUSU as they do in the case of other universities. It is therefore remarkable for the NEHUSU to take deep interest with the occupyUGC movement. And in doing so they have taken a political stand not only against the UGC but against the government. By supporting the cause of the students who have been mentally (not to forget physical) harassed regarding their future academic pursuit, the NEHUSU have once and for all said enough is enough.

It is important for the NEHUSU to widened the debate on its stand, mobilize opinions in the campus and get members of the teaching fraternity involved which is happening in Delhi and other places. Student politics and movement have change the political landscape in many countries including India. In a democratic country such as ours student politics is a vibrant space where leaders and activist have found their calling. But more than producing leaders it is the desire of the students to safeguard the autonomy of education based on rationality and scientific temper that cannot be compromised which ever political party assumes power. The NEHUSU protest did not attract the attention of the local media which is disappointing. However this did not fail to dampened the mood of the students who threatened to relaunch the protest if the UGC doe not revert its decision on the scholarship programmes.

NEHUSU should also expressed its solidarity with the students of Kiang Nangbah Government College (KNGC) in Jowai town, who have been agitating more than once regarding their various demands. A few days ago the students of the College were lathi charged, bear the brunt of tear gas and water cannons right in front of the DC’s gate. Ironically the local MLA is also the education minister in the ruling dispensation. Assurances have been given more than once in the past. No wonder the students were impatient and demanded immediate implementation of their demands. The district administration have given another assurances which going by past records cannot be rely upon. The government has clearly reveal its double standards. It cried financial crunches for non implementation of its commitments. Yet the government has no problem in sanctioning crores of money for festivals, events and what have you. The lathi charge against the Kiang Nangbah College came right after the Terra Madre festival where crores of rupees have been invested. Here again we see the misplaced priorities of the Congress led government at the state. It is against these issues that students groups, civil society and organisation have become critical. The issues affecting the students are not only national but local. Soon or late they will overlapped and this is not going to be good for any ruling establishment. In the meantime it is important to lend support to student bodies like NEHUSU and KNGC. Long live NEHUSU, long live Occupyugc. Long live KNGC , long live the students movement.

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Phrangsngi Pyrtuh Written by:

Phrangsngi Pyrtuh teaches in a college and is a fellow traveller

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