On 3 October, the Jawaharlal Nehru University issued a circular proposing a new Inter-Hall Administration manual to govern the institute’s hostels. The IHA is a body that administers 18 hostels of JNU, and on that day, the new draft manual was uploaded on the university website. The proposed changes to the hostel rules became most controversial for a revised fee structure with massive hikes. For nearly a month now, the university’s student community has been protesting the new draft manual, ultimately forcing the administration to partially roll back the proposal.
Aishe Ghosh, the president of the JNU Students Union and an MPhil student at the university’s School of International Relations, has been at the forefront of these protests. In a conversation with Appu Ajith, an editorial assistant at The Caravan, in late November, Ghosh explained why these protests had found support from unexpected corners. She narrated the students’ union’s struggle against the proposal, the attitude of the university’s vice chancellor, Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar, and the larger implications of the fee hike for public education in India.
The JNU administration’s circular called for JNU’s student community to send suggestions to the office of the dean of students. We, being JNUSU representatives, read the manual and there were quite problematic things—students should be “appropriately dressed” when they come to the dining hall; the curfew timing will be 11.00 pm or half an hour after the library-closing time, whichever is later. Then we saw the whole section of the fee structure and reservation allocation is not there in the new manual. So, there was uproar and anger.
Generally, whenever a protest has to happen in JNU, the students’ union spreads awareness—it talks to people and tell them why the protest is happening. But for this, we did not have to do much. Whenever I went out, students themselves asked, “What is the JNUSU planning? We can’t simply accept this.” We said that the dean of the students has asked us for suggestions, let’s do that constructively. Obviously, the administration does not really care, but still, we thought, in a positive manner, let us give suggestions.
We prepared a draft letter and told students that if they agreed with our points—about the draft being problematic and wanting its proper roll back—they should also email it to the dean of the students. By my estimate, most of the three thousand students who were on campus dropped the email. We thought that the administration—knowing that JNU is political—would not go forward with it.
The campus was charged up by 18 October. At 3 pm that day, there was supposed to be a meeting to discuss the draft. The hostel presidents had been called for it, but not the JNUSU. The administration gauged that the students were angry about this too. They postponed the meeting to 10 am on 28 October. They were clever—it might not look like that to other people, but we have seen how things worked in past four years. At 10 am, a day after Diwali, hardly ten people would come for a protest. It was really hopeless. If the draft passed the IHA meeting without any dissent, the situation would have been out of our hands. We thought let’s try our level best in the next ten days. We did meetings after meetings. By our estimate, at least a thousand students would be there on campus during that time, we had to bring them.