Police fought street battles in New Delhi yesterday with thousands of students who stepped up protests over fee increases at one of the country’s top universities.
Police baton charged some groups of demonstrators and media reports said dozens of students from Jawaharlal Nehru University were detained.
The university is one of India’s most prestigious and counts top politicians including Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and this year’s Nobel economics prize winner Abhijit Banerjee among past students.
Defying a ban on groups of more than four people, demonstrators started a march from the university to the parliament as part of their action against higher costs for accommodation as well as curfews and other restrictions on campus.
They broke through police barricades and police had to close three metro stations because of the troubles, which first erupted last week when police fired water cannon on the students.
While the government said it had created a three-member panel to hold talks with the students, the demonstrators have said they will not stop their action until the fee hike is rescinded.
“We will not end the protest till the police release the students who have been detained,” added one protester, who only gave his name as Jitendra.
Teachers at the university have voiced concern over the way the government and police were handling what they called “peaceful” protests.
JNU has a history of left-wing activism.
Many at the university have also rallied to accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of curbing free speech.
“This isn’t just about JNU, we need to reject fee hikes at all government universities,” said protester and languages student Kushal, saying many would be unable to finish their studies if the proposed raises went through.
Another languages student Shivraj Jagtap said university costs would be roughly tripled, reaching Rs12,000 per month for some.
With students refusing to leave until detainees were released, a police official in Delhi, M S Randhawa said they were being freed.
University authorities could not be reached for comment on the unrest or the fee hike proposals.
But vice chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar on Sunday urged students to return to university for approaching exams.
Nearly half of the university’s students come from families with incomes of less than Rs144,000 annually, according to the JNU Students Union.
That means many students from poor and low-income families would not be able to afford the new costs, the union says.
The students are also protesting against what they say are “regressive” hostel rules on clothing and timings and are demanding that the vice chancellor be sacked.
“The vice chancellor isn’t meeting us,” said Abhimanyu, a PhD student at JNU who like most preferred not to give a last name for fear of being identified.
“The administration hasn’t spoken to us even once.”
Students at other Indian universities have expressed solidarity with JNU colleagues, though the protests have not spread.
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