Education is the vehicle for social progressiveness of all societies and is the aspirations of many. Its accessibility has to be ensured in order to see these dreams come true in reality. In this regard, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) claims a legacy on “Social Inclusiveness” as its sparkle over other premier universities in the country. Diversity is remarkably the hallmark of the institute which is fundamental to its vision “Social Justice” thus bridging gaps amongst students from across varying economic and social backgrounds.
However, the students across all the four TISS campuses in the country: Mumbai, Guwahati, Hyderabad and Tuljapur have staged an ongoing protest from the 21st of February 2018 against the Administration’s decision to get rid of the financial assistance provided to the GOI students (Backward students from marginalized backgrounds availing the Government of India Post Matric Scholarship from their respective state governments). This is another incident where privatisation of higher education has crept into places where it has been vehemently resisted. It is fundamental to discuss how this has been received by the students’ community on one hand, and what are the problems arising due to these decisions taken by TISS Administration on the other, so as to understand the larger implications of privatisation in the education sector. Understanding this phenomenon as an issue pertaining only to GOI students’ problem is utterly a reductionist approach.
Needless to say, when privatisation of education is embraced, social justice is sacrificed. It is a process where inclusion is translated into seclusion. And this is executed through exclusionary processes. To seclude means that critical thinking which is associated with higher education becomes more expensive, meaning only people from economically sound backgrounds can get access. In other words, it means that some forms of knowledge should be accessible to only certain class of people. This is nothing but the reflection of “Brahmanical ideology” which has permeated through layers of resistance. The reason why this cannot be accepted lies in the way it is executed i.e. through exclusionary processes at the expense of people from socially and economically marginalized backgrounds. To seclude means to exclude. It is important to distinguish between the targeted population and affected population “when seclusion is synonymous to exclusion”. Translating inclusion into seclusion is exclusion.
The removal of Financial Support Aid for the deserving students and the imposition of Hostel and Dining Hall fees to the GOI students across all campuses will compel many students to leave their respective courses midway. This gives the students no choice but to voice against policies that will not only leave marginalized students across TISS campuses to fend for themselves; but also mar institute’s reputation and its claim to “Social Justice”. The students are taking stance with a modicum of hope that privatization of higher education no matter what, should be resisted with a firm belief that education can still be a vehicle of social progressiveness towards a more egalitarian society. Besides, the Administration’s plan for a single common pool of monetary assistance in the form of Financial Aid which will cater all students including GOI students is nothing but a homogenizing strategy adopted by choosing to put on a blindfold towards peculiarities underlying different social categories. As much as it is important to acknowledge the crisis that the students are facing, it should be noted that this crisis is related to the larger structural problems due to the ever-dwindling funds allocated for education and the ever-increasing privatization of higher education.
Contextualizing the issue particularly in regards to Northeast India is the need of the hour so as to have a comprehensive understanding of the problems faced by students from the region studying in all the TISS campuses in general and at TISS-Guwahati campus in particular. TISS-Guwahati campus has been set up in the year 2010 with a vision to develop it as a world class social sciences institution to create human resources and knowledge contributing to build just and peaceful societies across the North-Eastern State. Its mandate is to serve the eight states in the North-Eastern India and thus reserves 66% of the seats for candidates from these states. Therefore, it is evident that maximum of the students enrolled are students from the northeast. Moreover, majority of these students are from marginalised backgrounds thus availing the GOI-PMS scholarship from their respective state governments. The future of these students is gloomy as many of them will be compelled to leave before passing out. Such is the plight of the students from the region.
If the Indian state and TISS Administration for that matter do not take these issues into account and still afford to overlook, it is time to revisit the premise for choosing this particular geographical location for the establishment of TISS-Guwahati. It is a very high time to dissect the vision and mandate that the institute claim to endorse. Besides, it is important to critically think if these students are falling prey to the structural forces of the market. In other words, it is essential to ask the agendas for the establishment of TISS in the northeast. One might suggest that it is a mere expansion of the education market: privatisation and commercialisation of education in the northeast. Is it so?