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Anatomy of TISS Students’ Union Protest: Motives and Inside story
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Anatomy of TISS Students’ Union Protest: Motives and Inside story

tiss students strike

Deepak Kumar Nanda

Tata Institute of Social Sciences Students Union 2017-18 had given a university strike in the name of “TISS Bandh” on 21st of February 2018 with three major demands to revoke the policy of Government of India Post Metric Scholarship (GOI-PMS) for the batches of MA 2016-18, 2017-19 and upcoming 2018-20 respectively. In this scheme, eligible SC and STs Students (below income group of 2.5 lakh annual family income) were exempted from tuition fees, Dining hall fees, and Hostel fees. However, a notification was circulated in the month of May 2017 stating that all the students have to pay the fees as per prescribed fee structure. But because of the students’ intervention—mainly led by Ambedkarites Students Association who called Minister of State Ramdas Athawaleji, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment– the administration formed a GOI-PMS working group to work with UGC, Ministry of HRD and the TISS Administration.

tiss students strike

After the formation of the working group, the administration did not follow the rule strictly. However, recently, the Administration reminded the students to pay the fees through an email circular. This intensified the anger among students eligible for GOI-PMS and as a result, the Students Union called a strike to pressurize the administration to solve the issue. The students were mobilized under the banner of the Students Union, based on three demands. The protest was overwhelming and held across the campuses of Tuljapur, Guwahati, and Hyderabad, apart from Mumbai. However, the charter of demands expanded in the process of deliberation, with additions which were not included at the beginning of the protest and mobilisation. The Administration met with the delegation once, followed by two public meetings, but they could not come to any conclusion. The protest went on with blocking the main gate (of the Mumbai campus) and not allowing anyone inside on the first day, then there was some relaxation for students and staff, except administration and professors, later.

Late in the night of 28th of February, a delegation of the administration called the ’empowered committee’ came to address the protesters, with the assurance of fulfillment of first two demands and proposing some of the measures for other demands and working with the students to resolve other issues. In this connection, the students union agreed to the proposed solution and asked for calling off the strike. It agreed upon engagement of discussion and negotiation for further demands with a letter issued in the name of Students Union around midnight of 2nd March (early morning of 3rd March 2018). In this connection, there was a division among students union members where the majority of them accepted the proposal signed on the agreement paper on 3rd March by President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Literary Secretary and Cultural Secretary except General Secretary and Sports Secretary. However, a section of the students did not agree upon the decision of the Students’ Union and decided to continue the strike which they expressed in the same way, on the Students Union’s letterhead with the authorized signature of General Secretary and Sports Secretary.

In this connection, they said the Students’ Union had not consulted the so-called “General Body” of protest site, therefore, they condemned the Students Union members who agreed upon the Administration proposal. Here, I want to say that I was also part of the protest. On the first day, I was there the whole day and there was an overwhelming response from all sections of the students in the campus. In the evening of the first day when the administration wanted to meet the Students’ Union, the group refused by saying the Administration has to come to the road and address the students. I strongly said, let’s meet with the Administration and give the demands and let the protest continue, but that did not happen. Even the Students’ Union itself insisted on meeting the Administration but no one paid attention to them, therefore, they had to change their stand according to the students.

However, on the second day, there was a public meeting with the Administration but not at the protest site but in another space. Hence I can say being a protester, there was no control of the Students’ Union on the protest from the evening of the first day itself. Now coming to the “so-called General Body”, why did they not pay heed to the Students’ Union when it wanted to meet the Administration on the very first day itself, when the call for strike itself was given by the Students’ Union? In this connection, the question arises: did the few protesters have a previous plan of action to carry on the protest while using the Students’ Union name and the Students’ Union could not read their mind? That has been hinted in the Students’ Union statement released on 3rd March 2018:

We also feel that the struggle is being used by certain groups to find political leverage and that their constant insistence on keeping the protest going in this form is as such so as to gain some mileage with the student community. This threatens to dilute the objectives of the movement, taking the control of the movement away from those who are most affected by it and those who should be deciding its terms.” (Students’ Union letter dated 3rd March 2018).

This gives the clear message of political interest in the ongoing protest, and in continuing it, to gain political mileage by diluting the very objective of resolving the issue of GOI-PMS.

I am a Ph.D. scholar, and have been earlier a part of Students’ Union as president, therefore, I am very much aware of TISS politics and I know 80 percent of active students and their political positions because of the small size of the campus. I was also a GOI-PMS student during my MPhil degree because of my OBC (NC) background and I am in favour of affirmative policies for all poor Dalit Adivasis and Bahujan. I come from a BPL family, pursued my master’s degree with an educational loan at 13 percent interest from State Bank of India. Therefore I strongly condemn the state increasingly privatizing higher level education.

Now coming to the so called “General Body”, as per my observation, there is a dominance of left and left radical students who confronted me while I was speaking to the students. There were many incidents that took place where the students of the first year (2017-19) GoI-PMS were not allowed to speak; loudspeaker was snatched away from them. When they insisted on having a dialogue and discussion with the administration they were given no attention; even the Students’ Union members were also confronted aggressively by the students from the left and radical left when they put forward their views and positions. When the voices of some of the GoI-PMS students was not heard repeatedly, they felt the direction of the protest going in different ways. Hence they left the protest sites and engaged themselves in study and assignments.

To reiterate, the radical left group in the campus does not believe in the constitution of the Students’ Union, therefore, they don’t take part in Students Union election taking place every year. One incident I will narrate to illustrate this: during the students’ union election in 2017-18, the radical left group, led by one of its leaders who is also one of the main faces of the current protest, campaigned for NOTA on the day before the election. It was a no campaign day and they rejected the democratic electoral process as usual. They are very much active in this protest and taking the lead with another left-leaning party in the campus, along with other GoI-PMS students.

In this connection, if the call-off of the strike by the Students’ Union is not respected by the left and radical left and some GOI-PMS students, I would say it is unconstitutional and a threat to democracy in TISS. In my understanding, I may not agree with some of the previous decisions of the Students’ Union during the protest, but all students including me should respect the constitutional body in the campus. Because the call was given by Students’ Union itself and the so-called General Body which rejects the Students’ Union decision is not the actual General Body in the campus. Again, as far as my understanding goes from the letter issued by Students Union, they want to just call off the strike but re-strategise the mode of the protest. As the letter says: 

“However, we feel that at this point of the protest, there is an imperative need for introspecting our motives and our scope. While we don’t feel that whatever has been achieved is substantial or enough, we feel that the struggle needs to rethink its strategies and make sure that this struggle goes beyond the gates of TISS, where a larger, structural fight awaits.” (Students Union letter dated 3rd March 2018).

That means the Students’ Union has realised the motive of doing politics in the name of GoI-PMS by mobilising the students but not resolving the issues which need dialogue and discussion with the TISS Administration and advocacy outside the TISS campuses.
 

Note: 

 * Any further critical comments and intellectual debates on this article are welcome.

*These are my personal views and do not represent the views of the association I am affiliated to.

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Deepak Kumar Nanda is a Ph.D. Scholar at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He’s a former President of the TISS Students’ Union.

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