New Delhi: 10 Aug 2018
A group of students at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay have issued a statement questioning the varsity’s decision to invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be the guest of honour at this year’s convocation ceremony.
“We would like to question the contribution of the ruling government, whose head is PM Narendra Modi, in higher education and in other vital social issues affecting the social harmony and fundamental rights of a substantial section of the Indian population,” the statement says.
According to the students, while Modi would not be stopped from speaking at the university, the decision to invite him is questionable – especially given his government’s poor track record on funding public higher education institutions. Since public expenditure on education is on the decline, the students have asked whether the prime minister really wants education for all, or whether he is “promoting the Brahmanical idea of education only for a few people, belonging to upper caste and upper class backgrounds”.
Given the lack of public expenditure, several universities across the country are witnessing fee hikes. Central government policies have only made matters worse, the students have argued. “We fear scrapping of Non-NET fellowship in central universities or scrapping of GOI-PMS scholarship (for SC, ST and OBC students) in TISS, are just the beginning. Further fee hike and scrapping of scholarships are expected if the present system is allowed to continue. Of course, the worst sufferers would be the underprivileged students coming from non-upper caste backgrounds.”
Students also brought up the Higher Education Committee of India Bill, which has proposed a body that will replace the University Grants Commission. The new committee could lead to restrictions on academic freedom, the students have said, “Since the power to control funds will remain with the MHRD under the new act and HECI will have the power to punish or even shut down any institution which will not meet its guidelines”.
Given that Modi was being invited to speak at an educational institution, the statement said there are some questions he should answer first. “Will it be wrong for us to question the prime minister why his government is hell bent on destroying the educational institutions of this country? Will it be wrong for us to ask, why the government is scared of higher education and freedom of teachers and students in selecting what they want to study?”
Another concern expressed in the statement is the lack of jobs in the Indian market. Citing Labour Bureau data, the students have said, “Despite our privileged status as students of IIT Bombay, we are indeed concerned about the falling rate of employment across the country. The government has managed to create very little number of jobs over the last few years.”
Finally, the students have said that since they believe academia does not exist in a vacuum, they are also concerned by the hate crimes taking place across the country. “We question how the perpetrators of such heinous crime could get all solidarity from the ruling party.
We condemn all the atrocities committed on Dalits and Muslims over the last few years in the name of religion and aggressive upper caste pride. We question how beef becomes so important an issue that living human being could be killed for it, and the murderer would get perfect impunity from the state. We question how the government could so easily decide who is a citizen and who is not on basis of their religious identities.
But finally we would like to question Mr. Modi’s silence on all these issues. As a prime minister, we demand that he takes a positive stand and condemn all the hate crimes committed and supported by his party members.” ( The Wire )