The Student-Worker? Short glimpse at current disputes at Delhi universities

Submitted by Django on September 19, 2010

“There aren’t any students here, no teachers to suffer. It’s a school without rules out here”. (From movie-song, ‘Rang de Basanti’)

The relation between students’ and workers’ struggles used to be, if at all, a type of political alliance. Since the 1950s the relation changed, it increasingly became a social, rather than merely a political relation: more and more students were forced to see themselves as workers in the making. Whether a student will see her or himself as a worker while being at university roughly depends on six dimensions:

* young people from what kind of class background are able to enter university?
* how is the process of education in itself organised (division of learning, targets, hierarchies)?
* what is the relation between students and university staff and workers?
* do students have to work or do internship while studying?
* what is the influence of the wider (class) political situation and movement on the campus?
* what is the future prospect after leaving university, in terms of labour market, debts, position of intellectual labour in the social production process?

Like the society to which it has played the faithful servant, the university is bankrupt. This bankruptcy is not only financial. It is the index of a more fundamental insolvency, one both political and economic, which has been a long time in the making. No one knows what the university is for anymore. We feel this intuitively. Gone is the old project of creating a cultured and educated citizenry; gone, too, the special advantage the degree-holder once held on the job market. These are now fantasies, spectral residues that cling to the poorly maintained halls.

(From: “Communique from an Absent Future”, California Universities)

We neither have space nor knowledge to describe how these six dimensions have re-shuffled over time. Therefore just some general remarks. There are about 104 lakhs higher students in India, which is only around 7 per cent of the young population in ‘university age’. During recent years more semi-private colleges came up. Young, often working class youth entered these colleges – rather than the traditional universities and IIT’s – given that they promise a ‘more directly’ marketable degree. The perspective of these students and their families on ‘education’ is mainly one of future investment: debts for paying the fees most correspond to future job and wage perspectives. The pressure on students to pass the exam has aggravated, apart from a question of pride, prestige it became a more existential question of managing the debts. In December 2010, 20 students (in high school and college) committed suicide in Maharashtra; most due to intense fear of poor academic performance. India has the second highest suicide rate in the world and 40 per cent of the cases are in the adolescent age group. In 2006, 5,857 students, this is 16 a day, committed suicide across India – this number has increased drastically since then.

“One day this will all end. We’ll all go our separate ways. Life gets busy. Too many problems. After college we have to dance to fate’s tune. When I’m out on the streets… nameless, faceless, scared. Just walking the streets”.
(From dialogue, ‘Rang de Basanti’)

The process of education is changing. Professors at a meeting about ‘Democracy and University’, held in March 2010 complained about the increasing Taylorism of their work: students are given DVD’s for ‘e-learning’, as part of the planned shift to semester-system at Delhi University professors would have to correct 30 papers for marking a day, the time for revision has been cut down, teachers are now officially called ‘stakeholders’, which creates a kind of ‘client’ relation with the students. Professors and students fear that the planned opening of the education market for ‘foreign universities’ will foster this trend towards ‘universities becoming a market-place’. Another expression of the ‘neo-liberal’ university is the increase in casual work among the university staff. Most of the work like canteen, cleaning, security is now outsourced to contractors. There have been various struggles around this issue – see for example the report by PUDR jnu_workers_report

In addition to recent fee hikes and hikes in hostel rents the state intensifies repression against the more radical part of the student movement – under the pretext of ‘anti-Maoist’ anti-terrorism. There are ongoing protests about this issue, for more information click HERE
While most of the more radical student groups either solely focus on the campus or use the student world as ‘cadre-recruitment-base’ for the party, for example student unions like AISA, some students start to debate the question of the ‘historical material’ changes of the position of students within society and in relation to the working class, for example the group Correspondence – click HERE for their pamphlet.

Students protest fee hike
Greater Noida, August 17, 2010
Protesting against the fee hike, students of IEC College of Engineering & Management today boycotted classes and held demonstration outside the college. “Though the university registrar has informed that the fee approved by the fee fixation committee is applicable to the first year students only, the college is demanding the hiked fee from the second year students as well which is unjustified,” said the agitating students.
“We are also protesting against the fee hike for the first year students. The fee of Rs 75,000 was already high. Now, it has been hiked to about Rs 85,000 for B.Tech., MBA and MCA courses,” the students pointed out. “Since Friday, we have been protesting peacefully and requested the college management to resolve the issue. As it did not pay heed to our pleas, we were forced to demonstrate today. We have come here to study and not involve ourselves in any agitation,” they added.

Protest by teachers against semester system at Delhi University
New Delhi, August 17, 2010
As the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) today held a massive demonstration outside the vice-chancellor’s office over the issue of intrroduction of semester system. DUTA today claimed that the tussle with the administration had strained its relationship with college principals. “Never before in the past have the principals and the DUTA come into conflict in this manner. The vice-chancellor is trying to create a rift between principals and the teachers to impose semester system in science courses. He is issuing them ‘orders’ to implement semester system,” said DUTA president, Aditya Narayan Mishra.

Rohtak University – Faridabad Majdoor Samachar
Maharshi Dayanand University Security Worker
(FMS January 2010)
In 2001 they started to hire guards through contractors. Because the minimum wage was not paid in 2002 the guards, the gardeners and cleaners went to an official who sent them to the labour department. Since then the number of workers hired through contractors has increased relative to the permenent workers and the labour law is violated openly. In 2005 workers started a sit-in protest and hungerstrike in front of the office of the principal. Workers gave a notification to members of parliament and even to the Prime Minister… In order to surpress the resistance they started to sack workers bit by bit. At that time only 18 guards out of 90 were paid the DC rate, the rest was paid 100 Rs for a 12-hours day. They don’t get ESI or PF. The guards come from nearby villages… When there was major construction work done at the university they brought workers from far away to do the job. The female workers carrying bricks, sand, cement they call coolies and they pay them only 82 Rs a day. The male workers are paid 92 Rs. There is a large number of 14 to 15 year old boys working, they are paid 82 Rs.