Over the past few days, condemnation has been levelled against the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students' protest. In my opinion, the protests should be supported for a number of reasons.
There is no doubt that the hike in hostel and food fees will hit the less-privileged students hard. According to JNU's annual report for 2017-18, of the 1,586 students admitted that year, 40 percent belonged to the lower or middle income groups whose family income was less than Rs 12,000 per month. At present, students were paying Rs 2,500 per month as hostel and food fees, but this has been increased to Rs 8,000 per month.
After the students agitated, there was only a small roll back.
Consequently, many students from poor backgrounds may not be able to continue their studies as they cannot afford to pay the hiked fee. In my opinion, the action of the university authorities violates Article 14 of the Constitution because it discriminates against poor students.
In its historic decision in Brown vs Board of Education, 1954, the US Supreme Court observed, "It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such opportunity must be made available to all on equal terms." The importance of education has rightly been recognised in all countries.
In the Chandogya Upanishad, there is a remarkable declaration by King Ashvapati Kaikeya, "Na mey janpadey avidvaanah (There is no uneducated person in my kingdom.)". Plato, in his Republic, said that the State is first and foremost an educational institution. According to Plato, with a good system of education almost any improvement is possible. If education is neglected, it matters little what else the State does. The right to free education was advanced in the great American and French Revolutions as it is implicit in the right to equality.
Since the Right to Equality was made a guaranteed Fundamental Right in the Constitution (Article 14), the hike in fees violates the Article as it hits poor students hard. The fee hikes should therefore be struck down.
At the same time, the Delhi Police's lathi-charge on agitating students must be condemned, and action must be demanded against those who ordered it. There was certainly nothing wrong in students going to Parliament to vent their just grievances.
I express my full support to the students of JNU.
The author is a former Supreme Court judge and former chairman for the Press Council of India