The students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) have been protesting against the fee hike for last three weeks. In my opinion, the recent JNU students protest should be supported by all right minded people throughout the country.
There is no doubt that the hike in hostel and food fees will hit poor students hard. A significant proportion of JNU students come from poor families who cannot pay the increased fees.
According to JNU’s annual report for 2017-18, of the 1586 students admitted that year, 40% belonged to the lower or middle income groups whose family income was less than Rs 12,000 p.m. Presently students were paying Rs 2,500 p.m. as hostel and food fee, but this has been increased to Rs 8,000 p.m. (There was only a small roll back due to the agitation).
Consequently many students from poor backgrounds may not be able to continue their studies as they cannot afford to pay the hiked fee. A recent study revealed that many JNU students go hungry, walk miles instead of hiring a taxi, and wear damaged shoes to save money. Some even work shifts.
In my opinion the action of the University authorities violates Article 14 of the Constitution because it discriminates against poor students.
In its historic decision in Brown vs Board of Education, 1954 the US Supreme Court observed "It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such opportunity must be made available to all on equal terms".
The importance of education has been recognized in all countries. In the Chandogya Upanishad there is a remarkable declaration of King Ashvapati Kaikeya "Na mey janpadey avidvaan " (There is no uneducated person in my kingdom).
Plato, in his Republic, said that the state is first and foremost an educational institution. According to Plato, with a good system of education almost any improvement is possible. If education is neglected, it matters little what else the state does.
The right to free education was advanced in the great American and French Revolutions as it is implicit in the right to equality. Since the right to equality was made a guaranteed fundamental right in the Constitution viz Article 14, the hike in fees violates Article 14 as it hits poor students hard. It should therefore be immediately withdrawn.
All right minded and democratic persons must condemn the police lathi charge on the agitating JNU students (in which even a blind student was reportedly beaten up) and demand action against those who ordered it. There was certainly nothing wrong in students going to Parliament to ventilate their just grievances. Parliament represents the people, so people are surely entitled to ventilate their grievances to their elected representatives.
Full support to the JNU students. Down with the high handedness and heartless behavior of the authorities.
Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India.
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