Fees Must Fall: DU Students Protest Over Non-Tuition Fees, Demand Waiver

New Delhi: Since July 12, 2021, several students of Delhi University (DU) have been protesting against the administration, demanding a fee waiver for non-tuition fees which cover water, electricity, fests and other miscellaneous services that have not been utilised by students during the pandemic.

On July 2, Aftab Alam, DUSU’s vice president candidate (2019-2020), sent a letter to the vice chancellor, chancellor, dean of welfare, and the visitor of DU. However, he didn’t receive any response, despite stating that he, along with other students, would be holding a protest if they did not hear back within a week.

Photo: Aftab Alam, the addressee

Hence, on July 12, dozens of students gathered outside the central library, following all COVID-19 guidelines, after intimating the SHO of Maurice Nagar police station.

The intimation of the protest letter addressed to SHO, Maurice Nagar, dated July 10, 2021. Photo: Aftab Alam.

Also read: Extra Fees, No Concessions: More Than 90 Indian Colleges Are Facing Student Protests

Alam, who is leading the protest, said, “On the first day, 15-20 of us observed a satyagraha protest at arts faculty. Some 70-80 men in civil clothes and hidden faces started approaching us. Our phones were broken, we were verbally abused, and thrashed repeatedly. A DU officer started abusing us and took away our belongings. They were suppressing students’ voices.”

Some 70-80 masked men approached the students and started thrashing, abusing, and breaking their phones. Photo: Screenshot taken from the video shared by the protesting students.

The protesting students, on the other hand, didn’t budge and demanded to meet the vice chancellor. However, they were re-directed to the dean of students’ welfare who, after making them wait for an hour, said that he couldn’t help them. The protestors were asked to meet the college’s dean, who also didn’t respond.

“If the VC or dean of welfare won’t help, then who would? Who would listen to our voices?” Alam asks.

On July 16, students took printouts of the fee structure and burnt them as a symbolic form of protest, after which FIRs were lodged against three of them, including Alam.

Protesting students burning the fee structure and being charged with an FIR. Photo: Screenshot taken from the video shared by the protesting students.

“There is no usage of water, electricity, or fest fees, where is the money going then?” asks Alam.

Most of the college facilities have been unused since March 2020.

The All India Students’ Association (AISA) conducted a survey to empirically verify the above statement. AISA collected responses from over 500-700 students which would now be shown to the university administration. When this reporter contacted AISA secretary Ritwik Raj,  he talked about the systemic fee hike during the pandemic.

“The admin is dubiously keeping the campus closed when it should be accelerating the vaccination drive. These are some of the issues that we are trying to build a consensus among the students, the lockdown and online education can’t be a pretext for such exorbitant extortion of unreasonable fees,” he said.

The survey reads, “The libraries of most colleges are closed, physical access to campus is curbed and even the digital classes have been irregular and inaccessible. At this time, AISA believes that extorting the fees from students is unjust.”

In addition to the non-tuition fees, several students are also paying for their hostel facilities, PGs or flats in Delhi despite staying at their respective homes.

A student of Kamala Nehru College, Umaima Khanam, used to pay Rs 12,000 per month, pre-pandemic, along with her yearly college fees of Rs 18,000. Originally from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, her room in Delhi remains occupied with her belongings, for which she pays Rs 5,000 a month. “I haven’t been able to pay them since December 2020, and now I don’t know what to do,” says Khanam. She has to pay around Rs 78,000 simply for one online academic year.

An undergraduate degree at the University of Delhi can range anywhere from Rs 6,000 to Rs 20,000, depending on the programme and college. Several students are facing difficulties in paying their annual fees, which includes tuition fees and other miscellaneous fees.

While there has been no response from the administration yet, students are planning a hunger strike in the coming days. Some students have also met MLAs from Delhi such as Dilip Pandey and Atishi, and have contacted Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy CM Manish Sisodia and expressed their concerns.

Anandi Sen is an aspiring journalist, based in Delhi, India.

All images provided by the author.