Hyderabad—Tata Institute of Social Sciences-Mumbai (TISS) suspended academic activities on its Hyderabad campus on Monday evening, declaring a sine die. In an order signed by the acting registrar, the institute had also asked all students to “vacate the campus latest by 5 pm”.
As per the order, sine die will stand “until further notice”.
The decision was taken to quell a protest that students of TISS Hyderabad have been staging since July 8, demanding that the management negotiate to fix a lower hostel fee with a private operator who currently offers hostel facilities for TISS students. The protesting students have also been demanding a new set of hostel management rules to ensure low hostel fee even in the upcoming semesters.
According to student protestors, Dalit and Adivasi students have not been availing hostel facilities, thanks to the high fees charged by the private operator. From over 250 students who availed hostel facilities in the previous academic year 2018-19, the number has fallen to 150 this year, the students alleged. An Adivasi student also discontinued her course in TISS-Hyderabad this month as she could not afford the hostel fee, students alleged. As per the terms set by the private operator, TISS students are expected to pay a six month advance of Rs53,000 toward hostel fees, the protestors said.
TISS-administrative officers were not available for comment.
This is the third massive agitation in TISS Hyderabad in two years. In February 2018, in line with protests in the TISS-Mumbai campus, students had declared strike to oppose the administration’s decision to make Dalit and Adivasi students pay tuition fee which, as per Union government’s rules should be covered by Post Matric Scholarship. In December 2018, the students had staged protests when the institute scrapped its Bachelors degree courses. As part of the protest which started on July 8, the students had blocked the entrance of the institute forcing administration to suspend classes.
Protests have broken out on other campuses of TISS in the past. Other than the February protests last year, TISS-Guwahati students and faculty members went on a protest demanding permanent jobs and improved academic standards.
In the order issued on Monday, TISS administration claimed it had met all demands of students on July 8. The order further stated that the administration had given several warnings to agitating students before it took the decision to suspend operations in its Hyderabad campus. On July 10, the institute’s acting deputy director Prof. U Vindhya had issued a written warning to protestors stating, “if normalcy is not restored and if the instances of obstruction/stoppage of movements of persons or such illegal acts in any form or method were continued, the institute would have no option but to safeguard the interests of all concerned by taking action against the defaulters”. In Monday’s order, the institute’s administration claimed it had to close down the campus because “the students continued their illegal, unlawful, unjustified activities and disturbances in spite of the repeated appeals of the institute since July 8, 2019”.
The students refuted the TISS administration’s claims, stating that their protest has been peaceful. The administration has not met any of their demands, they alleged. A student protestor, Joel Mathew told HuffPost India, “TISS-Hyderabad has been changing hostel rules arbitrarily. In the previous academic year, students were asked to pay hostel fees in three instalments. This year they asked us to pay the fee in two instalments. We asked the administration to fix one set of rules which ensures low hostel fee for students who are currently enrolled and those who may enrol in the coming years”.
“The students refuted the TISS administration’s claims, stating that their protest has been peaceful. The administration has not met any of their demands, they alleged.”
Though TISS-Hyderabad administration constituted a sub-committee to negotiate a hostel fee with the private operator, no meeting to this effect was held till date, the students accused.
Though the TISS administration has asked students to vacate, the Joint Action Committee of students said they will continue their protests. Meanwhile, a petition to students, activists and academics of different campuses has already started circulating, condemning the “sine die closure of TISS-Hyderabad”. The petition also demanded that “TISS revoke the sine die immediately, and take all steps necessary to ensure that students from marginalised communities can avail of hostels and other amenities”.