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Occupy UGC: The semantics of students on streets

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By Swarnima Bhattacharya

An eyewash though it may be, Union Education Minister Smriti Irani announced on Thursday, that students will be given adequate representation in the “review committee” deliberating on the issue of the non-NET scholarships. Shehla Rashid, the JNUSU Vice President who has been at the vanguard of the #OccupyUGC movement, has welcomed not only the announcement, but also the fact that Smriti Irani was forced to come out and make a conciliatory statement, in the face of protestors marching up to the very doors of the MHRD.

While students pouring out on the streets in protest is a heartening sign of their participation in active opinion-making, what it indicates about State arbitration in matters of education, is something equally disquieting.

Less than a month into the Occupy UGC stir, the issues at hand have already found resonance in student campuses across Delhi, mobilising large groups of students from Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Ambedkar and Jamia Milia Islamia. Students from Kolkata, Allahabad, Pune and Varanasi are also carrying out spirited protest in unison with their agitating counterparts in Delhi.

The M.Phil and Ph.D students, the chief beneficiaries of these grants, were only in the middle of demanding a raise on the existing fellowships, when, by cruel irony, the mysterious “review committee” decided to do away with the system altogether. The government had already made the unpopular decision of slashing the education budget for Central universities by 25% and State universities by 48%. This only opens up a variety of questions on the seriousness, or the lack thereof, attached with academic research. It also intensifies the debate around education poised to becoming a “service”, should India finalise its “offer” of opening up higher education to international trade, in the Doha round of WTO-GATS negotiations in December 2015.

It is noteworthy how the Occupy UGC stir follows closely on the heels of the FTII student’s strike, which raged on for a staggering 139 days. There, the students of the renowned film school were fighting for their right to be headed by an individual of sound credentials, and not just a mediocre figurehead, an effective henchman of the State. The protest spilled over from Pune and reached the streets of Delhi, with students clamouring for the removal of Gajendar Chauhan as the Chairman of the Governing Council of the Institute.

Last year, the streets of university campuses, as well as social media platforms rang with the slogan of “Hok Kolorob”. Let there be noise, they said. The agitation started in Jadavpur University, Kolkata, when their Vice Chancellor failed to respond adequately, and appropriately, to a woman student’s complaint of sexual harassment on campus. The war cry, and I say this without a whit of exaggeration, proliferated  the internet, prime time television, the road outside Jantar Mantar and newspaper headlines, culminating in the arrest of two men accused of molesting the woman.

What the “kolorob” in Jadavpur unravelled was the deafening silence on the issue of women’s bodies (not) being treated right, within University campuses- an issue that is now been discussed piecemeal by the #PinjraTod campaign in Delhi. Women in Delhi University are organising Jan Sunwais (public hearings) on the issue of ridiculous regulations for girls’ hostels and PGs that resort to desperate, and often ludicrous, measures to keep women’s bodies under check.

I have carefully avoided reproaching THE government or A government, or any government for all that’s wrong with our higher education “system”. If the widespread geography and plethora of issues raised by all these protests proves anything, it is that the “system” as a whole is unsatisfactory. The “system” implicates not only the myopic policies of the government, but also the indolent heads of many of the aggrieved institutions and parents finding solace in caging their daughters in dreary college dorms.

As you watch various issues being raised and several battles being fought in the Delhi University campus, among other campuses, you see the assortment of campaign slogans snowballing into one. There are posters of different colours, some questioning the silence of Arvind Kejriwal, Narendra Modi and Smriti Irani, others demanding the ouster of an effective VC, yet others proclaiming “I know why the caged bird sings”, and even more saying that students must be handed their basic rights. Well, that is at the core of all agitations taking the University streets by storm for the past year or so. The right to complain and be heard, right to access libraries after 6:00 pm instead of being locked up in dormitory rooms, right to pursue higher research, right to be taught and governed by people with the right credentials— basically, the right to be educated with dignity.

 

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  • Rahul

    Some days I still can’t believe the government’s decision to reduce education budgets. And the government’s handling of the whole FTII issue, among many others was mind-numbingly stupid. The author has made a very valid connect to last year’s “Hok Kolorob”. With the recent mobilization of youth, artists and intelligentsia across the country, are we talking about a revolution? I sure hope so..

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Amidst Controversy, President Distributed 65th National Film Awards

Irani also hailed the noticeable presence of regional cinema and talent and also drew attention to how over 20 women were honoured at the stage.

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Iconic actress Sridevi was posthumously honoured at the 71st Cannes Film Festival. Filmmaker Subhash Ghai, who received the award on her behalf, says he felt honoured.
Sridevi gotthe TITAN Reginald F. Lewis Film Icon Award at 71st Cannes Film Festival. Wikimedia commons

Controversy marred the 65th National Film Awards ceremony here on Thursday with several awardees protesting against the whittling down of the number of those to be honoured by the President to a select 11.

Upset over breaking from the long-held tradition of the President giving away all the awards, around 60 awardees wrote to the Directorate of Film Festivals, President’s office and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, over the “discrimination”.

The name plates of the absentee winners were placed facing down at the Vigyan Bhawan, where several others from across the length and breadth of the country congregated to celebrate the diversity of India and Indian cinema.

Celebrated names like K.J. Yesudas and A.R. Rahman, apart from actors Riddhi Sen, Divya Dutta and Pankaj Tripathi and a host of others attended the gala.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani and Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore handed out the remainder of the 125 awards at the event, which was also devoid of a musical performance unlike every year.

Another posthumous honour went to Sridevi, whose powerful performance in her last film "Mom" fetched her the Best Actress Award. Her husband Boney Kapoor and two daughters -- Jahnvi and Khushi -- took the stage together to receive what was Sridevi's first National Award in a career of 50 years.
Boney Kapoor and daughter receiving Sridevi’s award from President, BollywoodCountry

The prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award — the country’s highest cinema honour — was given posthumously to Vinod Khanna, whose wife Kavita Khanna and son Akshaye Khanna received it. It was an “emotional and proud moment,” Akshaye said.

Another posthumous honour went to Sridevi, whose powerful performance in her last film “Mom” fetched her the Best Actress Award. Her husband Boney Kapoor and two daughters — Jahnvi and Khushi — took the stage together to receive what was Sridevi’s first National Award in a career of 50 years.

President Ram Nath Kovind, who joined the ceremony in the latter half, said: “We will miss them forever… More than just box office successes, they tugged at our hearts and captured our emotions.”

He said India’s strength lies in its diversity, and cinema celebrates it by having a unifying voice which transcends regions. He spoke about the “transformational times for cinema” and how “India is gaining traction as a filmmaking destination”.

Irani also hailed the noticeable presence of regional cinema and talent and also drew attention to how over 20 women were honoured at the stage.

All the officials who took to the mike thanked the President for his presence. However, the question many were left with after this edition of the ceremony, is why all the winners were not felicitated by the President.

In the letter, the protesting awardees said they felt “dejected rather than honoured” for their work.

It was on Wednesday that the awardees were informed that a large segment of the awards will not be presented by the President. They discussed the matter with Irani the same evening and were promised a reply.

"...We are disheartened to know that we will be deprived of the honour of this appreciation of a once-in-a-lifetime moment of pride and glory that the National Film Awards had promised us."
Smriti Irani, Information and Broadcasting Minister- wikimedia commons

“In the circumstance of not receiving a response for our grievance, we are left with no option but to be absent for the ceremony. We do not intend to boycott the award, but are not attending the ceremony to convey our discontent…

“It feels like a breach of trust when an institution/ceremony that abides by extreme protocol, fails to inform of such a vital aspect of the ceremony with prior notice. It seems unfortunate that 65 years of tradition are being overturned in a jiffy.

“…We are disheartened to know that we will be deprived of the honour of this appreciation of a once-in-a-lifetime moment of pride and glory that the National Film Awards had promised us.”

Also Read: Akshay Talks About Building a ‘Society’ 

The President handed over the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Nargis Dutt Award for Feature Films on National Integration, Best Book on Cinema, Best Direction (non-feature film), Best Jasari Film, Best Male Playback Singer, Best Music Direction (songs and background music), Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Direction (feature film), Best Feature Film and Best Editing.

Singer Shashaa Tirupati felt “terribly disrespected”.

Shashaa, who bagged the Best Female Playback Singer for “Vaan varuvaan” from “Kaatru Veliyidai”, told IANS: “It’s like the thrill of it is gone now… National Awards and the President go hand-in-hand. For 64 years, they have been given by the President. When you speak of the National Award, automatically people visualise the President handing over the award to the recipient.”

Riddhi Sen, the Best Actor winner for the film “Nagarkirtan”, received the honour from the President. But he found the decision for others unfair.

“This is discrimination and this is absolutely unfair.” (BollywoodCountry)