Deadlock between Indian government and students after protests

Education ministry says it will not bend to demands to remove university head, after dozens were injured in attacks

January 10, 2020
New Delhi
Source: iStock

The fallout from recent violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi has continued, as the authorities rejected a student demand that the vice-chancellor be removed, after about 35 people were injured by masked attackers on 5 January

On 9 January, hundreds of JNU students marched to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD), formerly the Ministry of Education, to request the removal of JNU vice-chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar. Aishe Ghosh, the JNU student union president, said after the meeting that there would be no dialogue until the demand was met.

However, the HRD said that Professor Kumar’s removal was “not an option”, Indian media reported. The HRD secretary, Amit Khare, met Professor Kumar on 10 January, and HRD officials were set to meet with students later in the afternoon.

Ms Ghosh became a prominent figure in the protests after she was seen being bleeding profusely after an attack on 5 January, in a widely circulated video. On 7 January, the police filed a case against her and 19 others, allegedly for vandalism, Al Jazeera reported. Three JNU professors have appealed to the courts to preserve CCTV footage and other information from that night.

The attack on Ms Ghosh and others came after a meeting about hostel charges. Tuition fees and other charges have been a contentious issue among Indian students.

Indian universities have been roiled by protests over the past few months, including demonstrations in December over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CCA), which critics say could discriminate against Muslims. 

Pushkar, director of the International Centre Goa, told Times Higher Education that the “immediate cause/trigger for student protests would seem to be the Citizenship Amendment Act; but frustration, resentment and anger has probably been building up for some time now”.

“To some extent, it is a clash of values,” Dr Pushkar said, adding that some young people may not share the government’s views on social issues, and may also be concerned about a lack of economic opportunity.

“The JNU protests over fees and other charges are more specific but have now dovetailed into anti-CAA protests. I think that a large part of the anger is due to the manner in which the university administration has pushed through revised numbers.”

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