Eight students of TISS Hyderabad have begun a mass hunger strike in the absence of a favourable response from the college administration regarding their protests over the change in hostel and mess fee structures. The hunger strike began on Friday afternoon on the fifth day of the protest, with nearly 20 more students volunteering to join if the administration remains apathetic towards the students’ concerns.
The students have been protesting the college’s new fee structure and hostel facilities, as it is driving socio-economically disadvantaged students to drop out. While they were earlier allowed to pay hostel fees of Rs 15,000 in three instalments over the course of the semester, GoI PMS students could pay the dining charges once their scholarships were received. However, the present fee structure under the new service provider, CN Reddy, requires all students eligible for scholarships to pay semester fees of more than Rs 52,000 upfront.
With the campus being shifted to Turkayamjal from Telangana State Institute of Panchayat Raj and Rural Development (TSIPARD) Campus in Rajendranagar, and the new fee structure demanding all students (including SC, ST and OBC(NC) students relying on financial aid) to pay the entire semester’s hostel and dining charges upfront, protesting students are demanding that the administration take responsibility for students with Government of India – Post Matric Scholarship (GoI PMS).
“The assurance that the administration has made so far (about relaxing the fee payment structure for GoI PMS students) are only verbal. We have asked them for a proposal in writing, but they refused. We had called for a General Body Meeting with all the students, as well as faculty and administration on Friday morning to discuss our demands. The administration has failed to turn up, which is why we are going on a hunger strike, until they are ready to have a dialogue with the student body and resolve our demands to safeguard students’ education,” a student said.
Students are also unhappy with the lack of transparency in which the hostel and mess service provider was chosen. On Wednesday, nearly 20 students in the girls’ hostel reportedly suffered food poisoning. Two of them were admitted in a hospital for treatment. Students have also complained that the location of the girls’ hostel is unsafe, with many women facing street sexual harassment near the hostel. Students say that the administration has denied responsibility for their living conditions, stating that the campus is non-residential from the current academic year.
On the other hand, the service provider CN Reddy has issued a statement asking that his name be excluded from the issue. “I would obey to whatever decision TISS takes on this and we have no objection to how TISS decides to manage the hostels … I would like to step down from the role of managing TISS hostels immediately and urge the students and management to take a decision on this. We oblige the students to understand that there is a younger generation of students residing and studying on the same premises who are potentially disturbed by the ongoing agitation,” Reddy’s statement said.
CN Reddy also owns the KB School of Excellence, which is now TISS Hyderabad’s new campus. Students say that they also suspect some form of financial fraud, as they have not received proper receipts for the payment of hostel fees. “The receipt is just a handwritten scrap of paper with the student’s name, fee amount and UPI ID or other transaction details scribbled on it,” a student said.
Students have alleged that Reddy had ordered guards to close down the gates of girls’ hostels by 9.30 pm, and that if any incident of sexual assault occurs, they would not take responsibility.
Students also allege that the Chairperson of the SC/ST Equal Opportunity Cell has been trying to deal with the issue on an individual basis, asking each student how much they can pay, rather than treating the issue as a systemic problem. They add that some members of the administration have intimidated and humiliated students by passing insensitive comments. A staff member of the Office of Student Affairs allegedly said, “GoI PMS students have bikes and girlfriends,” thus dismissing their financial concerns. The same person also called the protest a ‘lynching’ of the management by the students.
While the administration had earlier responded to the students saying they will make some relaxations in the fee structure for GoI PMS students and try to provide financial aid, students are demanding that they must take responsibility for all GoI PMS students in current and upcoming batches so that they are not forced to drop out. With students continuing to protest by blocking classrooms and administrative office, the administration issued a notice on Wednesday asking students to “refrain from such unlawful activities.”
“It may be noted that if normalcy is not restored and if the instances of obstruction, stoppage of movement of persons or such illegal acts in any form or method are continued, the Institute shall have no option but to safeguard the interests of all concerned by taking stern action against the defaulters,'' the notice said.