“The students who come here from Delhi University colleges like Hindu, Lady Shree Ram and St. Stephen’s exude confidence while speaking in English,” Mohammad Anees mused over a cup of hot tea in the chill of a winter evening in Delhi. As an afterthought he added, “We rural students are confident in Hindi, but struggle in English.” Anees is a student of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. IIMC is one of India’s most popular schools for post-graduate courses in journalism, advertising and public relations. The institute’s Delhi centre is located within the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. The ongoing protests in JNU, against fee hikes, have percolated to IIMC too. As I spoke to Anees at the IIMC campus, a group of students nearby started singing a popular protest song: “Tu zinda hai toh zindagi ki jeet par yakeen kar. Agar kahi hai swarg toh utaar la zameen par”—If you are alive, believe in the victory of life. If you feel that somewhere there is a heaven, then resolve to bring it on earth.
Since 3 December, around fifty students of IIMC, out of the total strength of 274, have staged a dharna against what they call “an unaffordable fee structure.” They have been organising via a Facebook page called “Saving Media Education.”Around five students from the protesting group have decided to boycott all classes, though there has been no formal call to do so by the students. A day earlier, the JNU student’s union had declared that students from 14 centres across the university will boycott their final semester exams in protest against the proposed hostel fee hike.
A series of fee hikes by IIMC, in just the last two years, have led to an increase of 27 percent to 41 percent across all the five courses—ten-month diplomas—offered by the institute. As per the prospectus of 2019–20, Hindi and English journalism students pay Rs 95,500 towards tuition, while Urdu journalism students pay Rs 55,000. The bilingual “Radio & Television Journalism” course costs Rs 1,68,500, while “Advertising & PR” costs Rs 1,31,500. In addition, hostel and mess charges come to Rs 6,500 per month for girls and Rs 4,750 for boys. Hostel accommodation for boys is limited and those who cannot be accommodated inside the campus have to rent houses in surrounding areas, an expensive proposition in any south-Delhi locality. The most vulnerable students at IIMC are from the Hindi and Urdu journalism courses, and hail from predominantly semi-urban and rural backgrounds.
Consequently, the students’ main demands are primarily a reduction in the tuition fees and hostel accommodation for all. Two other demands—round–the-clock access to the library and removal of the 10 pm curfew time—have already been accepted by the IIMC administration. Radhuvinder Kumar Chawla, the academic coordinator at IIMC, told me that the institute’s executive council has decided that from the next academic year the policy of an automatic annual ten-percent fee hike, in place for a decade, will be stopped. He added that since IIMC is situated in the Delhi ridge area, special permissions have to be obtained for constructing a new hostel.
As students from diverse backgrounds protested in favour of affordable education, I spent time with students of the current batch who are part of the protests at IIMC. They told me about their demands, aspirations and anxieties.