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Students have erupted in major protests in several universities in recent years—JNU, Hyderabad, Jadavpur, FTII, AMU, Jamia, BHU (2017), Patna, Guwahati.... What’s the reason?
The Modi government, in its attempt to ‘weed out’ ideological opponents, has identified universities as centres that oppose their brand of politics, which is one of social exclusion and crony capitalism. Hoping to take over the cultural politics of the country, the Modi government, from the word go, started installing incompetent figures to head institutions such as FTII. The FTII Students Association set the benchmark for students’ struggles all over the country.
What is the importance of having public-funded universities? How much should education be priced, if at all it has to be priced?
A society cannot talk about “equal opportunity” if some children are begging on the streets, while others attend exclusive schools. Education is not a commodity and it doesn’t benefit an individual alone. As it is important for creating a good citizenry, it is a public good. Progressive political candidates in the US and the UK have debt-free college education on their agenda. There is a reason for that. A country can be a leader in the knowledge domain only if education is free. When education is public-funded and independent, and when academic freedom is protected, it is only then that real innovation occurs.
Do you think JNU is getting enough support from other universities and from other sections of society?
Yes, there is tremendous support for students’ demands outside the campus. I happen to talk to various sections of society who are sympathetic to the demands of students. If we ignore the social media trolls, the rest of society understands the importance of education—especially since the government’s gaffes such as demonetisation and GST, and its disregard of expert opinions such as those of Raghuram Rajan.