Patiently sitting on the steps of the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, a group of 20 students hold up posters to protest against continued online classes.
“We started the sit-in a week ago. We always make sure that a small group of students is staying here 24X7 so that the security staffers don’t close the building,” said an IRAS (International Relations and Area Studies) student.
Lack of resources
Due to the pandemic, SIS’ postgraduate students have never attended a physical class due to “lack of infrastructure and financial resources”, said Srikanth Kondapalli, the School’s Dean, adding that the JNU administration had released a statement this February saying offline classes were to resume soon.
“A yoga event happened yesterday [Tuesday] on the campus, which was attended by about a hundred people who did not wear masks and did not respect social distancing. Also, other schools in JNU organised offline classes. There is double standards and hypocrisy regarding COVID-19 in this university,” said Vaishnavi, another IRAS student.
Physical classes of JNU’s School of International Studies have been closed since 2019. After six months of repeated peaceful protests, the postgraduate students started a sit-in near the building on June 14 and then resorted to occupying a classroom at the SIS building on June 19.
Most of these students live in hostels, where they share dorms where no Wi-Fi is available. With the closure of the classrooms, they have nowhere to study except in the library or the reading rooms, which are quiet areas where they cannot ask questions or interact like during classes.
“Nowadays, attending a class is like watching a YouTube video. There are no interactions, no shared interests. Sometimes, the professors come on campus to give lectures from their university office, which is absurd. The students are here, the professors are here, and yet, our right to a proper education is denied,” said Saksham Bhatia, a PISM (Politics with Specialisation in International Studies) student.
While other classrooms in the building have been locked, the students have managed to occupy one of them. “Security personnel had been ordered to close the room, so some of us are now sleeping here. The JNU administration tagged us us as rebellious demonstrators. All we want is access to quality education”, said a student.
The SIS students have sent three letters to the Dean of the School, all of which went unanswered. Mr. Kondapalli was confronted by the students one week ago in his office.
The university administration is scheduled to meet next week and the protesting students hope their concerns will be addressed. “We are all very frustrated. JNU is the best university for humanities in India. We expected excellence from it, and now our degree will be impacted by the situation”, said Raghav, another SIS student.