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TISS Hyderabad: Burden of funds cut falls on students from 'marginalized' sections

Counterview Desk
Top activists associated with the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), a civil society network, including Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh, Dr Binayak Sen, and Prafulla Samantara, has protested against the decision of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) administration for “sine die” closure of TISS, Hyderabad Campus, even as “denying” hostel access to Dalit and Adivasi students.
Addressed to Prof Shalini Bharat, director, TISS, Mumbai, acting deputy director Prof U Vindhya,TISS, Hyderabad, and MP Balamurugan, acting registrar, TISS, Hyderabad, the letter states that the students’ protests in favour of their demands to ensure “inclusive and accessible education are completely are “fair and reasonable”, asking the authorities to lift the closure order and “take necessary steps to ensure that Dalit, Adivasi and other students from marginalized and Bahujan backgrounds have access to hostels and other amenities.”

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We are deeply disturbed and dismayed at the unprecedented decision of the administration of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) to suddenly ‘close down sine die’ its Hyderbaad off-campus in the wake of a week-long protest by the student community. We are also quite concerned at the manner in which the administration has sought to ‘respond’ to the peaceful protests of the students, which include young dalit, adivasi and women students.
From across the country, we have been witnessing the multiple rounds of protests by the students of TISS since last year, with completely fair and reasonable demands to ensure inclusive and accessible education, especially to students from marginalized backgrounds. It is a very unfortunate state of affairs that students have to repeatedly keep protesting for their legitimate demands and this time around, about 13 students had to even go on a hunger strike for the third consecutive day.
It has come to our notice that the administration has arbitrarily decided that students should pay Rs 54,650 upfront for tuition fee and hostel, without which they will not be allowed access to hostel accommodation.
This is clearly an exclusionary step whereby most students belonging to socio-economically marginalized communities will not be able to continue education and in an indirect way reinforces rigid caste structures whereby students only from certain social locations can access quality education. Such a huge monetary expectation runs contrary to the spirit and purpose of an exemplary institution like TISS as well as the previous guidelines which stipulated payment of Rs 15,000 as accommodation charges over three instalments.
In addition to the demand of reinstating the earlier fee structure, the TISS Hyderabad Student Action Committee (SAC) also raised in its Charter of Demands the need to enable those students unable to immediately pay the dining hall fee with the option of paying their dues once their student aid and scholarship amounts are disbursed.
The fulfilment of this demand requires that the institute provide an assurance to the service provider (the private party running hostel on TISS campus) to this effect, which the administration is reportedly unwilling to do.
It is also quite disconcerting that the TISS management seems unwilling to uphold principles of transparency and display its tender documents and contract with the private party, CN Reddy, despite repeated demands from students. This is even more worrying since the private party is charging the students hostel fee for 6 months at an exorbitant rate of Rs. 8,600 per month, while the semester itself is only for a period of four months (while reportedly the same service provider charges Rs 4,500 outside)!
Students have also been complaining that the location of the girls’ hostel is unsafe, with many women facing street sexual harassment near the hostel. However, we are informed that the administration has denied responsibility for their living conditions, stating that the campus is ‘non-residential’ from the current academic year.
Furthermore, the only ‘solution’ that the private hostel owner now offers to the girl students is a suggestion to ‘return back by 9:30 pm’! It is also a matter of record that with no campus of its own, the TISS-Hyderabad has shifted thrice, first from the Roda Ministry Social Work Campus, Gachibowli to the Telangana State Institute of Panchayati Raj and Rural Development campus, Rajendra nagar to Turkyamanjal now, which is further away from the city.
We would like to state that we have perused through the letter dt. 12th July, 2019 from Prof. U. Vindhya, Deputy Director (Acting) TISS, Hyderabad Off-campus addressed to the students as well as the Sine Die Notice dated July 15 of Acting Registrar MP Balamurugan and understand that over the past week some efforts were being taken by the administration to have a dialogue and address some of the demands of the students, although not to their complete satisfaction and in writing.
We also acknowledge the initiative taken meanwhile by TISS to approve an interim, financial support of Rs 15,000 for each GOI-PMS student to pay the Service Provider for admission into the hostel, benefitting about 26 GOI-PMS student (out of a reported 36 eligible students). However, as the students rightly point out, these are piece-meal efforts and what is required is a more structured and sustainable solution to the issue that is available both to the present and subsequent batches of students. 
As you all are well aware, the very legitimate agitation of the students at TISS-Hyderabad is situated within the larger struggle to ensure a nation-wide fully state-funded common education system that would uphold and not undermine the ideal of social justice. Previously, fee waiver of SC, ST, OBC (NC) students who avail GOI-PMS got cancelled in TISS. 
Exclusionary steps may force students from socio-economically marginalized communities to give up  education
High hostel prices and limited student aid has over the years led to a reduction in the number of SC, ST students on the campus. We are told, to our anguish that, as of now, there are only 26 students in the Hyderabad campus that study through GOI-PMS. The burden of the fund cuts of the institute is being shifted on the students from marginalized communities and this is certainly not in keeping with our constitutional spirit. This is a slow death of public higher education, where education is becoming a commodity only a few can afford.
In the past decade, we have been witness to protests by students as well as progressive faculty across the country trying to resist attempts of the state from withdrawal of higher education and during these years TISS was an institute that many of us ‘looked up to’ for upholding a certain degree of social commitment.
However, of late, the direction of the Institute has been quite disturbing and with this turn of events in Hyderabad the glorious history of TISS working as an institution to promote social justice values providing equitable access to education has been dented further. 
We also wish to state emphatically that campus issues need to be resolved amicably by the administration, faculty and students and nothing can justify calling in the police to deal with peaceful protests. The sine die closure order, asking all the students to vacate the campus by 5 pm, reflects badly on the institution which is unable to address the issue and rather affecting the education of all other students.
We earnestly appeal to administration, faculty and students to engage in another round of constructive dialogue and amicably resolve the matter. Given the power hierarchy, the administration clearly has a greater role in this context.
We stand in solidarity with the student community at this moment in their struggle to uphold ideals of social justice and their right to seek accessible, quality education with safety and dignity. It pains us to state that the approach of a) not engaging adequately and comprehensively with the student’s demands and b) unilaterally shutting down the Hyderabad centre, does not behove an institution of the nature and statue of TISS. In the light of the above, we call upon you to immediately:
  • Revoke the administrative order to close the Hyderabad Centre of TISS of sine die.
  • Take necessary steps to ensure that Dalit, Adivasi and other students from marginalized and Bahujan backgrounds have access to hostels and other amenities. 
  • Ensure proper medical support to students who have been on hunger strike for the past three days. 
We look forward to immediate response and action from you in the interests of the students and justice.

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