Panjab University Lathicharge – PUDR Statement

April 17, 2017

PEOPLE’S UNION FOR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS (PUDR)

Press Statement

12th April, 2017

Condemn the brutality in Panjab University and organized attack on
institutions of higher education

Protest by students of Panjab University (PU) against unprecedented fee hike
witnessed brutal lathicharge and usage of tear gas as crowd dispersal method
leaving 4 students critically injured. Photojournalists covering the
protests were attacked by police as well and more than 50 students have been
arrested by the local police while 66 students have been charged with
rioting, causing damage to public property and sedition which was later
dropped.

The massive increase in the fee structure by the University for the Session
2017 – 2018 due to the financial crunch has lead to agitation by the
students. The financial crunch is a result of massive cut down in grants by
UGC and MHRD to institutions of higher education. The fees for Pharma
course, has been raised from Rs 5,080 to Rs 50,000 whereas for Dental, the
fees has been increased from Rs 86,400 to Rs 1.50 lakh. Infact, University
saw fee hike upto 1100% in one of their courses and as a result, several
student organizations within the campus which included Students for Society
(SFS), National Students Union of India (NSUI), Panjab University Students
Union (PUSU) joined the agitation and gave united call for ‘Panjab
University Bandh’.

On 11.04.2017, hundreds of students boycotted their classes and assembled
for a protest at the office complex of Vice Chancellor Arun Kumar Grover and
started sloganeering against MHRD, University Grants Commission (UGC) and
Central Government for restricting the access to higher education by surge
in fee structure. While students asked the VC to come out of his office and
demanded a roll – back of the fee hike, police began using water cannons to
disperse the crowd. In response, students hurled stones against the police
personnel and then the police fired tear gas shells towards the students.
Tear gas shells were even hurled at University hostels. As a consequence
several people especially female students were injured and they sought
medical assistance but when the same was not provided, students marched
towards VC office and were mercilessly lathicharged by the police. During
the melee around 22 police officers got injured too. While students
dispersed post-lathicharge, police followed and nabbed students and
assaulted them in public. Some of the students took refuge in the
University’s Gurudwara to save themselves from police’s barbarity.

Police surrounded the Gurudwara and arrested more than 50 students and filed
FIR against 66 students under Section 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting with
deadly weapons), 149 (unlawful assembly), 332 (causing hurt to public
servant to deter him from his duty), 353 (assault/criminal force to deter
public servant from his duty), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge
of public function), 308 (attempt to culpable homicide) Indian Penal Code
and Section 3, Public Property Damage Act, 1984. In total disregard to the
law of the land, seven students have been reported to be tortured in police
custody and the arrested students have not been produced before magistrate
yet.

Though the charge of sedition has been dropped on the request of the
University later but this incident again brings forth the arbitrary use of
the colonial law of sedition to silence the dissenters.

Police being present in university campuses and students being brutally
beaten up and assaulted when they stand for their just demands and causes
have become the new normal. This adds to the organized attack on the
students’ voices which has been witnessed earlier in Delhi University,
Jawarhlal University, Hyderabad Central University and Allahabad University.
The crackdown on the protesting students comes in the backdrop of the
systematic attack against higher educational institutions which hits at the
students’ right to education. With each passing day, education is becoming a
luxury which only the rich can afford. Recently, Tata Institute of Social
Sciences, Mumbai shut down three of its centres due to refusal by UGC to
release money allocated for them and Jawaharlal Nehru University witnessed
massive seat cuts in their MPhil/PhD courses.

The attack on students of Panjab University has to be seen in the context of
the larger fund cuts in higher education by MHRD and UGC. The Budget
allocation for the University Grants Commission (UGC) has been cut by almost
55 per cent, from Rs 9315.45 crore in 2015-16 to Rs 4286.94 crore in
2016-17. In fact towards the end of 2015, the UGC failed to allocate any
funds to Panjab University. Even back then the MHRD introduced a 25%
reduction in grants to higher education, which affected the UGC’s budget.
These cuts have led to universities raising funds through internal means
including fee hikes, as in the case of Panjab University. Therefore PUDR
holds the policies of the government responsible for promoting education
driven by profit and depriving needy students from access to higher
education.

PUDR unequivocally condemns the attack on the students and media persons and
the imposition of charges against students of Panjab University. We demand
that

1. FIR filed against students of Panjab University be withdrawn and the
detained students be released immediately.

2. Proposed fee-hike by the University (2017 -18) be rolled back.

3. Increase in government funding to institutions of higher education

Cijo Joy and Anushka Singh

Secretaries PUDR

12th April, 2017