Last night police swooped down upon dozens of students of Delhi University to arrest them. 15 of them were arrested and one was run over by the police car. The student run over is critical and admitted in the hospital. This midnight raid, carried out with clinical precision was not being carried out against some terror group or some political party. These were just ordinary students sitting on a hunger strike to demand that all outstation be given hostel accommodation by the University. It is also significant that none of them belong to any of the political groups contesting the elections due to happen in the University tomorrow. All of these students’ organizations have violated the election code of conduct and have even waged pitched battles against their rivals during the election campaign but police took no action as they are affiliated to major political parties like Congress and BJP. The fact that police moved in only against these unaffiliated students with such brutality reflects that the University administration and the police do not consider violence in the poll campaigns any threat against the existing elitist system but they do feel threatened when students organize themselves over real issues. Also it is extremely disturbing that the police should act in such a shady and conspiratorial manner. If the administration and the police thought that to sit on a hunger strike to demand hostels is a violation of laws and a menace to public peace then, why could they not have arrested the students in broad day light? They decided to pick them up at 12:30 mid night to ensure that the supporters of these strikers may not be able to protest this arbitrary act.
As the costs of living shoot up and house rents assume astronomical proportions, the demand for cheap and affordable accommodation has become a life and death issue for the outstation students. The revision of course structure last year that increased the duration of Bachelors’ course from the existing three to four years has made it extremely difficult for the less privileged among outstation students to study at Delhi University. A number of independent surveys have revealed that the number of outstation students belonging to the marginalized sections has been diminishing every year. Those sitting on hunger strike for past one week are keenly aware that if immediate steps are not taken, the inflating house rents and cost of living would ensure that Delhi University would become even more of a preserve for the privileged classes as it already is. What we are seeing in the University in the form of such protests is nothing less than a class war waged by the less privileged to safeguard whatever limited access they have to higher education. We are all painfully aware of the fact that even before the academic cut off lists are released by the University for admissions every year, a large number of meritorious students are excluded by an ‘economic cut off’. Selective police brutality upon such protests is nothing but class violence perpetrated by the ruling elite to shut the gates of institutions of higher learning upon the faces of the less privileged. This renders the police little more than a mercenary force in the service of the ruling elite which would very much love to reserve higher education for their own children.
Outstations students do not come to Delhi University out of their own choice. Since independence the government has pursued a differentiated education policy, as result of which while there are some elite Universities, most of the rest remain poorly run and mediocre. This forces students to migrate to distant places to pursue quality education. This leads not just to a drain on their parents’ resources but it also creates the possibility of some of them becoming deprived of pursing higher education due to the lack of money. Ideally there should be good quality higher education institutions for all streams in every region and till the time this can be done, the state should ensure cheap accommodation and food for all the outstation students.
In our society, for most of the people, education is the only avenue for upward mobility. No principle of human justice can justify the exclusion of an individual from the opportunity to move up in life just because his/her parents are poor and likewise nothing can justify the selection of a candidate over his/her more meritorious peers merely because their parents could afford the ever rising costs of pursuing higher education. The right to equitable access to higher education is the only leveling force in our otherwise highly graded society. It is a democratic demand that has become a life and death question for the youth seeking to move up the social ladder by educating themselves. This right cannot be left by the government to the play of the market forces without provoking explosive reactions from the less privileged.