Published: 27th February 2020
Vice-President calls for 'tolerance' during Pondicherry University convocation, protesting students detained for 20 hours
The students were shoved into police vans around midday on Tuesday when they refused to vacate the admin block and were released after the convocation ended without incident
The protesting students of Pondicherry University were detained for more than 20 hours, during which Vice President of India, Venkaiah Naidu presided over their convocation and handed out degree certificates, on February 26. The minute they were released, they went straight back to the administration block and continued what is now their 21st day of protest against the fee hike.
The Vice-President presided over the convocation and spoke about the need for students to be imbibed with a sense of empathy and tolerance in the education process, "We should think as to how we can make education a more holistic process, a process that refines human beings and expands not only the intellect and skills but also the essential human qualities like empathy, compassion, respect, tolerance and positive thinking," Naidu said while speaking at the convocation.
The VP also spoke about how academics must be rooted in a socio-economic context and that knowledge must be spread across the globe, "But remember, this (degree) is merely a stepping stone, a mere ‘enabler’ for you to pursue your academic, professional and personal dreams. You have a whole exciting world to explore, to understand, to contribute to." He also spoke about Universities not being 'ivory towers', "They are institutions that expand the universe of knowledge. They are “Vishwa Vidyalayas” which create, connect and transmit knowledge across generations, across geographies."
According to members of the Pondicherry University Students' Union (PUSU), the students were shoved into police vans around midday on Tuesday when they refused to vacate the admin block. The police vans drove into the campus right up till where the students were sitting but the students sat before the vans and refused to move. They were then dragged inside and taken to a hall on campus where they were detained. "We continued the protest in the hall where we were detained," Parichay Yadav, the President of the PUSU said.
No inhuman conditions, just detention
Parichay said that they had been given food, access to washrooms and had access to their phones as well, "We were not treated badly in any way. But we were not allowed to leave this room for over 20 hours," he said. Around noon, after the convocation drew to a close and the Vice President had left the campus, the students were allowed to go.
The detained students immediately marched to the admin block, condemned the detention and demanded that their concerns be addressed. "We will continue to protest till they completely rollback the fees," he said. The students were heavily reliant on the Vice President's visit and hoped that the pressure to clear the protests would push the administration to rollback the fees. Now that the convocation is over, we asked Parichay how they were planning to carry on the struggle, "The administration has said that they will call us for a meeting again on February 28, so we will wait for that meeting to happen," the student leader said.
Students unwilling to listen to us: PU officials
However, the administration clarified in a statement that they had had four rounds of meetings but the students were not willing to 'listen to them'. "The students did not accept the viewpoints put forth by the University Authorities regarding the reduction in student fees and had wanted complete rollback of the fees," their official note said.
The students are demanding a complete rollback of the fees but expected that the administration would come up with better negotiation deals than the one they had already made — to reduce the fee by 20 percent for students from underprivileged backgrounds, "They did not specify how they would select the students and also after a 200 per cent hike, a 20 percent reduction is barely anything," the Council had said.
In December last year, a student refused to accept her degree from President Ramnath Kovind who was presiding at the Pondicherry University convocation after she was not allowed into the auditorium allegedly because she was wearing a hijab. Many students refused to accept their degrees to protest against CAA and many also boycotted the ceremony.