South Asian University: Student protests enters 21st day as demands for scholarship increase go unheard, here's what officials say

SAU predominantly admits students from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries
Image from the protest | Pic: Sourced
Image from the protest | Pic: Sourced

Students of the South Asian University (SAU) have been protesting for 21 days demanding an increase in Master's and PhD scholarships and the formation of a representative body of students to address their grievances. They plan to go on an indefinite hunger-strike from Monday, November 7.

The protests started on October 13, 2022. “Among our major demands, we want an increase in scholarship stipend from the existing Rs 4,000 to Rs 7,000 as this is our living allowance and everyone requires it,” said Keshav Sawarn, a student of MA Sociology. SAU predominantly admits students from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. 

Students’ demands

Students said that as many of them come from these aforementioned countries, they cannot avail the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) which is awarded by the University Grants Commission (UGC). "We want the increase of our scholarships to be in tandem with JRF keeping in mind the rate of inflation to facilitate and support our research. Additionally, we want a policy level paid extension for PhD students who were affected by COVID-19 as it resulted in delay in the progress of the research,” said Bhim, a PhD student of Law, as per a release shared by the students.

Additionally, they have also demanded an internal body that will address the grievances of students and which is fairly representative of the students on campus. “Despite us sitting on protests, there has been no response from the administration so far,” Keshav said. 

However, following the continuous protests, the administration agreed to sit for negotiations with the students on four occasions. However, no positive conclusion could be reached in the meetings, students said. Following this, the students of the university staged an indefinite sit-in protest, occupying the lobby area of the administration floor since the night of November 1.

Police intimidation?

Students have also claimed that police presence has been increased in and around campus. “Police vans have been deployed for the past 10 days. There are riot police inside the campus who are trying to threaten us,” Keshav said. Moreover, students informed that they have also been barred from accessing the administration floor. 

This is not the first time that the administration has used the tactic of intimidation by calling in the police inside the university campus to break a student protest, he added. According to the bye-laws of SAU Act 2008, Section 14, police are prohibited from entering SAU campus, the student said. “Inviolability of the premises have been violated. A complaint has been previously registered against the Acting President Ranjan Kumar Mohanty, Acting Vice-president Senthil Kumar Venugopal, and Acting Registrar Muhammad Abulaish to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and SAU Governing Board members on 21 October, but no action has been taken so far,” he stated according to the press release. 

The university has on multiple occasions stated ‘lack of funds’ as a reason for not being able to increase scholarships, the students said. “But they have brought in measures like biometric attendance for non-teaching staff among others. So how are there less funds?” asked Shivank, another student from the university. 

The students will begin a protest march inside the campus from today, November 4.   

Official response 

Officials from the university told EdexLive that the university is responding in the ‘most humane way’ to the demands of the students. “The University has agreed to increase the stipend of the Master’s students from Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 per month as was the demand of the students initially. The University also agreed to meet the demand of increasing the mess subsidy. After agreeing to meet their demand of Rs 5,000, the students further revised their demand to increase the stipend to Rs 7,000,” officials from the university’s administration stated. 

The officials added that the students have also been given a waiver on the admission and hostel fee. “Besides the stipend, which is granted on a need-based system, the University has merit-based scholarships under the categories of SAU President’s Scholarship and SAARC Silver Jubilee Scholarship, being received by numerous meritorious masters’ students,” the university official said. 

On the police presence on campus, the university said that it has its own private security system and hasn’t called upon CISF or Delhi Police to control the situation. “Except for the one instance on the night of October 13, 2022 when the students did not let the Acting President leave his office and manhandled him, considering his medical condition. After the Police arrived, the President was allowed to go home without using any force,” the university official said. They stated that they have been in contact with the students via mail and dialogue. 

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