On the evening of 9 December 2015, over 300 hundred students participated in a protest against the University Grants Commission (UGC). The students, intended to march to the Parliament, but were stopped by the police near the Feroz Shah Road area in central Delhi. The police then launched an attack on the protestors, using tear gas and water cannons to hold the crowds back. The students were then detained at the nearby Parliament Street metro station, and were not allowed to leave for several hours.
These protestors were answering a national call to mobilise that had been issued by student unions across the country. The unions had urged students from various national universities to join the Occupy UGC protests that have been ongoing in the city for over 45 days. The protests began in early October, when the UGC announced its decision to scrap non-NET research fellowships—nominal fellowships awarded to students who did not qualify through the National Eligibility Test but would like to pursue research. Without these fellowships, the students argued, there would be little incentive for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue research.
On 25 October 2015, human resource development minister Smriti Irani announced that the ministry would reverse the UGC’s decision. However, the students continued their protests, arguingthat the HRD ministry’s decision also introduced restrictions on the eligibility of the non-NET fellows. The protestors demanded that the fellowship, which stands at a meagre Rs 8000 per month for PhD students and Rs 5000 for masters of philosophy students, be increased and adjusted for inflation.
According to the pamphlets issued by the Jawaharlal University Student Union, the aim of the protest was to oppose the central government’s attempt to “push forth its agenda to privatise, commercialise and saffronise education.” The protestors were also opposing the government’s decision to allow the 160member nations of the World Trade Organisation to establish universities in India as commercial ventures. A pamphlet issued by the All India Students’ Union Students asked the Narendra Modi government to “keep higher education out of the WTO,” adding that education was “not for sale.” Students fromseveral universities such as Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia University, Ambedkar University, Hyderabad Central University and Rohtak University, were present at the march.
Yesterday, Rahul M, an independent journalist, was following the march and was detained along with the other protestors. According to the students he spoke to, the police followed the march till Windsor Place, before proceeding to use water cannons and tear gas canisters against them. Several students also claimed that they were harassed by the police. “The male police beat me up with lathis,” a female PhD student from JNU said.