The past few weeks at the four campuses of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) have witnessed students going on an indefinite hunger strike in a demand to renew the Government of India Post-Matric Scholarship (GOI-PMS). The GOI-PMS scholarship enables students belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) to be financially assisted by the government for higher education. The income ceiling of parents/guardian for eligibility is Rs 1 lakh per annum. However, students whose parents have an income as low as Rs 20,000 have been charged with bills that amount to Rs 9,300 per semester for only food and hostel, tuition fees apart.
While these financial aids were mentioned in the prospectus at the time of the admission, they were unfairly withdrawn midway through the course. This has forced many students to quit pursuing their higher studies even after taking admission and in some cases, continuing the course for a year or more.
In response to the student protests, the TISS administration has not only ignored the implications of their decision- pushing many students into heavy loan debts- but has also taken up retributive measures against the protesting students, with alleged moderating of all mails sent through the student union's email and also going to the extent of refusing breakfast supplies in the hostels. Over 200 first year students from the School of Social Work- 95% of the class strength- have also been supporting the strike boycotting all submissions, presentations and exams until the issue at hand is resolved.
The students of NUJS stand in solidarity with the agitating students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. As students of National Law Universities, we have witnessed the growing trend of university administrations systemically crushing already marginalized student voices. We also understand the impact such actions have in abating the cause of the inclusivity in educational institutions.
In the context of the TISS contributing to policy, to the growth and study of social sciences, and to other cultures of empowerment, the stoppage of funds becomes additionally problematic. Access to quality education and the potentiality for success in a technocratic nation should not be based on the financial ability of students, especially in a country where drop-out rates have been incredibly higher for the marginalized sections (according to government data, 71.3% of SC/ST students alone drop out before they matriculate). While it may be convenient for the establishment to look at these financial incentives as 'entitlements', in a welfare state such as ours, these student scholarships are a necessity in ensuring the fulfilment of the constitutional rights of students from the marginalized and special categories.
We, thereby, stand with the students of TISS in their demand for reinstating the GOI-Post Matriculate Scholarship in line with their 4 core demands that:
1. The 2016-18 and 2017-19 batches be exempted from paying the hostel and dining hall charges.
2. The notification regarding payment of fees for the incoming batch of 2018-20 be withdrawn.
3. The institute offer waivers to students with physical and mental disabilities.
4. The institute reinstate the Schools and Centres on Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy.
Additionally, we urge the central and state governments to take adequate steps to release the funds and backlogs to premier institutions like TISS in a timely manner.
In solidarity. More power to TISS!