Puducherry: Universities in India seem to on a bad patch with fee hikes and student suicides or disappearances. Incidents in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, and the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, have upset students forcing then to resort to strikes. In solidarity with agitating counterparts elsewhere in the country, the student unions in Pondicherry University (PU) organised protest gatherings and an open discussion primarily against the recent fee hike in the JNU and the suicide of IIT Madras student Fathima Latheef. They also condemned regressive practices that force students to kill themselves as happened with Rohit Vemula and Payal Tadvi too in the recent past.
The Fraternity, a student political organisation of the PU, came forward to demand justice for Fathima Latheef, who committed suicide allegedy because of the discriminative acts of the IIT facullty. They gathered at Ponlait, the prime hub of the campus, around 6.30 pm. and denounced the growing Islamophobia in academic spaces.
Students demanded the immediate arrest and punishment of culprits behind the 'institutional murder' of Fathima Latheef.
Fraternity also demanded the framing and enactment of 'Rohit Vemula Act' in order to stop the harassment of Dalit, Muslim and other minority students on Indian campuses.
Why Rohit Vemula Act in Universities?
The 2016 suicide of Rohit Vemula, a research scholar at the University of Hyderabad, had exposed caste-based discrimination that is rife in academic spaces across the country.
Students unions propose a law named after him in order to secure the rights of students from marginalised section and protect them from discrimination at educational institutions.
The recent suicides of Fathima Latheef and Payal Tadvi, a house surgeon of a Mumbai medical college, allegedly after discriminatory acts and harassment by seniors underline the need for a special legislation.
Abid Vallappuzha, a student activist from the Fraternity told Onmanorama, “systematic exclusion of marginalized communities from educational institutions is continuing again."
He recalled the 2016 disappearance of JNU student Najeeb Ahmad and the suicide of Payal Tadvi.
“When you ignore Rohit Vemula, then Najeeb Ahamed happens. When you ignore Najeeb, Payal Tadvi happens. When you ignore Payal, Fathima Latheef happens,” Abid quoted what Najeeb Ahmad’s mother Fathima Nafees had said.
"This vicious process should come to an end. We don’t need any more Rohits, Najeebs, Payals, or Fathimas. We will fight for justice. We also have decided to do something productive on this issue with the help of like-minded people," Abid added.
Ambedkar-Periyar Students Forum (APSF), an anti-caste, secular student union, urged PU students to send individual mails to the Union Government and Ministry of Human Resource Development demanding justice for Fathima.
Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) at the University, meanwhile, conducted an open discussion on fascist approach towards ‘Higher Educational Institutes in India’.
At the gathering, the Students Federation of India demanded justice for Fathima and expressed solidarity to JNU students who are fighting back the massive hike in hostel fees. Recently, hundreds of JNU students took part in a month-long protest against the unexpected fee hike.
PU students, who too are set to pay more as fees, demanded affordable and accessible public education.
SFI also termed the New Educational Policy as ‘problematic’.
Muslim Federation of India had also joined the protest gathering.
“We believe in an educational space which is secular and accessible to students coming from all sections of society. Central Universities should provide equal space to every student regardless of their family background," Parichay Yadav, President of the PU Student Council, told Onmanorama.
The student leader also came down on fee hike. "Fee hike can’t be tolerated in Central Universities. Students from very poor background are pursuing graduation and PhD here. It is the responsibility of government to make education free and affordable. We will continually resist until there would be complete rollback of fee hike in JNU as well as in PU," Yadav vowed.