Why IIMC Delhi students support the protests against “unaffordable fee structure”

Since 3 December 2019, around fifty students of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication have been protesting against the school's fee structure. Shahid Tantray For The Caravan
05 December, 2019

“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.

Mohammad Anees is a student of the Radio and TV journalism course. His parents are unaware that he is studying journalism—they believe he is working in Delhi. “My family is a conservative Muslim family and our views differ on many issues,” the 23-year–old, who hails from the Churu district in northern Rajasthan, said. He told me that his elder sister wanted to pursue a course in fashion design, but the family decided to get her married and instead, educate the son. The family’s decision still sits uneasy with him, he said. Anees has a bachelor’s degree in technology from Jaipur and interned with Samachar Jagat, a Hindi newspaper, and another Hindi news portal. When I asked him how he is funding his education, he said, “I borrow money from friends and have some savings.” He is angry with the “Delhi-centric” media. “They just do not step out of this city. Places like Churu are completely unreported,” he told me. He wants to make documentaries on social issues after graduating. “Like dowry or the hold of patriarchy, both of which are prevalent in my area. I want to take a video camera and shoot a Rajasthani wedding and the dowry that the bride’s side gives to the groom.” Anees wholeheartedly supports the IIMC students’ protest.

Azhar Ansar completed two undergraduate courses before enrolling in IIMC’s Hindi Journalism course. The 22-year-old from Mangrol, a small town in Rajasthan’s Baran district, studied Islamic theology from Al Jamia Al Islamia, an Islamic university in Kerala’s Mallapuram. His other degree is a bachelor’s in sociology via distance education. Ansar told me that he went to Kerala to study Islam because “seminaries in north India offer only religious instruction whereas in Kerala they offer a mix of religion and secular education, and I wanted that option.” His father, Jamil Ahmad owns a small household-goods store and could not afford to pay for Ansar’s journalism degree. A Delhi-based NGO called Human Welfare Foundation paid 25 percent of Ansar’s tuition fee, while the family cobbled together the rest. “There is almost no representation of Muslims in the media. I want to focus on issues pertaining to my community,” Ansar told me. “Take higher education, Muslims are virtually absent. Our social status is also quite low. I want to highlight these issues,” he said. Ansar does freelance work occasionally for Chhatra Vimarsh, a digital Hindi news portal and covered the JNU fee-hike protests for them. “I support the students’ protest because I think the demands raised are legitimate,” he said.

Gautam Kumar, a student of Radio & TV Journalism, took a loan from his elder sister to cover his expenses at IIMC. He did not get a hostel room and currently shares a single room with a batchmate in the nearby locality of Ber Sarai. The 24-year-old hails from a village near Patna, has an engineering degree in computer science and was earlier involved in street theatre. He had appeared for the Union Public Service Commission exams, but failed to make the cut and decided to study in IIMC. “I used to read all the newspapers and keep up to date with current affairs, hence I decided to give journalism a shot,” he told me. Kumar covered the JNU protests for Impractical Media, a digital news service on Youtube and Facebook. “The debate on high fees no doubt started from JNU and precipitated the protests here, but students here have been feeling the pinch of high fees,” he told me. Kumar estimated that by the end of his course, he would have spent a total of Rs 2,53,800 just on tuition, food and rent. “Everyone should get hostel accommodation,” he said. Gautam has been elected as a representative by the protesting students for their negotiations with the IIMC administration. “The current fees are not affordable for many students and some may have to drop out in the second semester. We want the administration to reduce the second instalment that students have to pay,” he said.

Saanica Wahal is a 22-year-old student of Advertising & PR at IIMC. Wahal hails from Kanpur and her parents are professionals who can afford her fees. She is one of the few students from her course favouring the protest. “I am standing for people who cannot afford to pay,” she said. “Most of my classmates want a less confrontational approach and favour dialogue with the administration,” Wahal told me, before she rejoined a small huddle of students outside the main block.

Sourabh Verma, who is studying Radio & TV Journalism at IIMC, has a bachelor’s degree in computer applications and studied in Lucknow. He has worked with the Peoples’ Media Advocacy & Resource Centre, a media initiative focussed on Dalit issues. His father serves in the Indian Army and can afford to pay for his son’s education. Verma wants to make films and had applied for a film-making course at the Film and Television Institute of India, in Pune, and the University of California, in Los Angeles. He eventually joined IIMC. “UCLA would have set me back by Rs 50 lakh, so I can definitely afford IIMC. But public education should be affordable or even free,” he told me.

Tushar Dhara is a reporting fellow with The Caravan. He has previously worked with Bloomberg News, Indian Express and Firstpost and as a mazdoor with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan.