People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 49

December 04, 2005



Unite & Fight For Social Justice, Self-Reliance & Rights


K K Ragesh


CONCLUDING at Hyderabad on November 21, the 12th all-India conference of the Students Federation of India (SFI) urged upon the student community to unite and fight for social justice, intellectual self-reliance and democratic rights. The five-day conference had commenced on November 17 with a massive student rally in the Nizam College grounds in Hyderabad.




During its course, the conference discussed various challenges facing the student community of our country today, which include recent attempts to facilitate the participation and domination of private capital, both Indian and foreign, in the field of education. The principles of social justice and equal opportunity in education are also increasingly coming under attack, with the state power seeking to throttle the students’ democratic voice. While the fundamental rights --- the right to form associations and the freedom of speech and expression --- are blatantly being denied, it is alarming that even the judiciary, which is supposed to protect these rights, is itself playing a proactive role in trampling them. It was in this context that the 12th SFI conference urged upon the students and academia to unite and fight for social justice, intellectual self-reliance and democratic rights.


The UPA government at the centre has not altered, in any significant way, the previous BJP-led NDA regime’s policy of commercialisation of education. This is paving the way for the launch of a large number of private self-financing institutions, confer upon them the deemed university status and also allow the proliferation of self-financed courses in the existing aided and state run higher educational institutions and universities. The UPA has taken some steps to desaffronise education and free it from the communal venom, and introduced a 2 per cent cess for mid-day meals and primary education. These steps are welcome. But they are by far too few to redress the existing levels of communalisation and commercialisation in the field of education. The UPA has failed to keep one of the most important promises made in the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) that no one will get deprived of the right to education due to economic reasons.




Themis, the Greek goddess of justice holding her scales and sword, is a familiar image. Even though she wears a blindfold, she is not considered blind but is a symbol of impartiality of the judicial system. But what is alarming is that when the educational rights of a vast majority of students are being blatantly denied and more and more students are committing suicide, the demigods of justice have closed their eyes to the downtrodden sections while favouring the profit mongers. After the verdict of the 7-member constitutional bench of the Supreme Court of India in the P A Inamdar case, which prohibited reservations in private higher educational institutions, almost all political parties took the stand that a central legislation is necessary to establish social control over private educational institutions. In fact, in the T M A Pai case verdict in October 2002, the apex court itself gave complete autonomy to private managements about admitting students and deciding a fee structure.


And now, in the Inamdar case, while asserting that reservations are not obligatory for private institutions, the court allowed for 15 per cent reservations for the rich on the pretext of an NRI quota. The judgement read: “…the state cannot insist on private educational institutions which receive no aid from the state to implement state’s policy on reservation for granting admission on lesser percentage of marks, i e on any criterion except merit.” This in effect sabotages the merit based admissions as well, and reserves all the seats for private managements.


Today, the situation is that thousands of students remain deprived of educational opportunities while a large number of seats remain vacant for want of an adequate number of “paying students.” This is what necessitates a central legislation to ensure social justice and equal educational access irrespective of paying capacity, in order to resolve the present crisis in the arena of professional education. Despite many promises the government made in response to massive agitations, its bias for the private education lobby is clear from the delay in enacting such a law. After a long wait, and in response to sustained pressure from the Left parties and student organisations, the government promised to enact such a law. Yet, many of the clauses in the draft legislation proposed by the centre are designed to safeguard the commercial interests of private managements.




The union ministry of human resource development (MHRD) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) have taken a decision to accord recognition to private and foreign universities. This decision was taken in the education ministers’ conference held at Bangalore in January 2005, under the pretext that the government would exercise due “control” over such institutions. Backdoor efforts are also on to enact a Private Universities Bill that was introduced in Rajya Sabha long back. It is amply clear that allowing foreign and private players in education will be a major step towards crass commercialisation of education, leading to further elimination of the economically and socially deprived sections from its ambit. The important role of higher education in developing intellectual self-reliance and promoting critical thinking and research in the interests of the common mass will be grossly undermined as education will become a tool in the hands of corporate and imperialist interests. Universities, which are the “dwelling places of ideas and idealism,” will gradually get malformed into teaching shops.


The erstwhile BJP-led government gave permission for the establishment of private deemed universities by making amendments to the UGC Act. After this amendment, about 170 private institutions were conferred the “deemed” university status in a short span, and throughout the country they are running thousands of “off-campus centres” that do not have recognition from the UGC. The UGC Act clearly states that no deemed university can start an off-campus centre without obtaining prior permission from the state governments and UGC. This backdoor approach to grant the deemed university status was adopted because the Private Universities Bill, introduced in Rajya Sabha in 1995, had to be put in cold storage due to strong resistance from the Left and the academic world. But the UPA government at the centre and many state governments have shown no interest in curbing this gross violation of UGC norms. There is need to ensure that illegal off-campus centres are closed down without delay and the amendments to the UGC Act are reviewed, without compromising the interests of the students already enrolled in these centres.  




The government has included the entire education sector in the offer list for negotiations under GATS at the sixth WTO ministerial conference to be held in Hong Kong from December 13 to 18. Article 15 of the GATS states that subsidies provided to any service have a “distortive effect” and need to be withdrawn. Thus, as per this agreement, the already declining subsidies for education will be further axed. This would effectively mean an end to all sorts of scholarships and freeships provided to our students. This provision, if implemented, will virtually sound the death knell for social justice in Indian education system.


While the government may exercise a certain degree of control on the liberalisation process, any commitment to GATS can be withdrawn only by paying heavy compensations to other WTO member countries. Thus such commitments have an element of irreversibility in them. India is committed to award trade status to educational services, as stipulated in the GATS agreement. This will mean a further influx of foreign universities into India. Universities, which are expected to be the hub of new and rational ideas as well as provide intellectual leadership to the society, would not be able to serve this purpose.




On February 20, 2004, through its verdict in the Sojan Francis case, the Kerala High Court banned political activities in campuses. It said: “It is open to the educational institutions to prohibit political activities within the college campuses and forbid students from organising or attending meetings other than the official ones within the college campus.”


Last year the association of private college principals brought before the High Court the issue whether the by-laws of a university are binding on the colleges or not. The court observed that managements could decide on the ways and means to conduct student union elections, and that the methods prescribed by the university need not be followed. Challenging it, the Kerala University syndicate and Kerala University Students Union filed a review petition before the Supreme Court. Then the latter made some damaging observations against student union elections, castigating them with a general observation drawn from the experience of the Delhi University student union elections, where money and muscle power dominate. The court asked the governments to respond on the issue before November 7.


At the beginning of this academic year, the Rajasthan High Court also took up the issue of student union elections suo moto and opined that there is no need for them as they are corrupting students and are a hindrance to academics. Later, the Jodhpur bench of the court, which reviewed this judgement, opined that there is a need for student union elections. A petition for a review of the Jodhpur bench judgement, questioning its legality, is pending before a larger bench of the High Court. 


Freedom of speech and expression and freedom to form associations are fundamental rights guaranteed under article 19 (1) (a) and 19 (1) (c) of our constitution. The constitution states: “…nothing in sub-clause (a) and (c) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the state from making any law, in so far as such laws impose reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”




Thus the message of the SFI’s 12th all-India conference attains all the more importance at a time when the courts, which are supposed to protect a citizen’s fundamental rights from state intervention, are themselves seeking to deny them.   


The 11th (Kozhikode) conference of the SFI had resolved to intensify struggles against anti-people policies of the government. Since then, student struggles have intensified all over the country. In the course of these struggles, students have faced brutal repression by state governments in Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. However, these very struggles forced the centre and many state governments to talk of a “central legislation” to control fees and admissions in private institutions. In this period, the national capital also witnessed massive student protest in the form of marches to parliament and during the nationwide education bandh.


These struggles have added to the SFI’s credibility within the student community of our country. Its influence has expanded and extended to many new areas, new campuses and new sections of the student community. Our all-India membership, which was less than 25 lakhs in the 1990s, has grown to 28,69,918 in 2001-02 to 29,23,317 in 2002-03 to 31,88,760 in 2003-04 to 34,67,660 in 2004-05, and is poised to cross the 37 lakh mark in the current academic session. We have also scored successes in many student union elections, as in Himachal Pradesh University (Simla), universities in Kerala, Central University (Hyderabad), Jodhpur University, Dr B R Ambedkar Marathwada University (Aurangabad), Sambalpur University (Berhampur, Orissa), Agartala University and the universities in West Bengal. We have won in numerous colleges in Himachal Pradesh, in many new colleges in Rajasthan and some colleges in Uttaranchal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Tamilnadu, Assam and one college in Sikkim. We continue to hold our ground in some of the colleges in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. In West Bengal, we have surpassed all our previous successes and emerged victorious in the highest ever number of colleges so far.


The SFI conference deliberated upon the environment in our country today and the need to further intensify struggles --- not merely to resist the anti-student moves in the field of education but also to make positive gains for the student community. As our political organisational report points out, this is an opportune time to build and further expand our organisation. “The opportunity gained as a result of our valiant struggles in the recent past should not be lost. The favourable political climate has to be utilised to the hilt. We cannot be complacent. We have to brace ourselves to face all the eventualities that unfold before us in the coming days.” This is possible only by formulating correct policies, building up a dynamic and sustained movement, and ensuring broad student unity against all the anti-student and anti-people policies. It is high time to initiate such efforts based on a broad alliance of students and aimed at translating the present favourable political atmosphere into advances for the student community.