Hundreds of students from Kerala held up signs reading “Education is our birthright” and took part in a protest march from Kochi’s Gandhi Square to High Court Junction on December 10. to tribal and scheduled caste communities participating in the protest march for better hostel facilities, increase of e-Grant grants and an end to bureaucrats’ authoritarian management of the SC-ST hostels.
Take to the streets when the government fails
Dalit, Adivasi and Queer students attending various courses in Kerala institutions staged a demonstration against the alleged systemic oppression, apathy and poor facilities in the post-matric hostels. Organized by the Adi Shakti Summer School, a collective of Adivasi and Dalit youth under the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (AGMS), many students gathered to express their misery and concerns about management.
Mary Lydia K, the state coordinator of Adishakti Summer School, said, “Each district should have enough hostels for SC and ST students. They can’t afford private places.” She talked about the ongoing projects and highlighted how two hostels in Aluva, Ernakulam district have completed construction works but have not yet opened to the students. She further stated that students need to spend at least ₹4,500 to ₹7,000 from their pockets to stay in hostels or even as paying guests in a metropolitan city like Kochi. With the ₹1,500 residence grant offered to SC students, they demanded that both facilities should be made more viable or that the grants should be increased accordingly.
Students have also often been victims of discrimination, with officials responsible for their well-being acting against their needs. According to a report from The News Minute, Lydia talked about how many students had to drop out of reputable colleges after being admitted because of a lack of hostel facilities and the discriminatory attitude of officers. Students also came forward and accused the government of abandoning them.
Need for an institutional reform
The protesters claimed that they regularly reported delays in the disbursement of the electronic grants. These scholarships play a vital role in preventing student dropout as they fund their residence and education. Currently, Dalit students staying in private hostels are awarded a scholarship of barely ₹1,500, while Adivasi students are only awarded an amount of ₹3,500. They also accused the Aluva Tribal Extension Officer (TEO) of impeding the freedom of movement of postmetric hostel residents, which the protesters say is a direct violation of University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines.
With demands to increase these subsidies, the protesters reported a wider institutional and systemic injustice. A report by The Hindu quoted the students as saying their situation has not improved even years after the institutional murder of Dalit scholar Rajani S. Anand came to light. The changes the students hope to see soon with the protest are,
- Educational institutions and the SC/ST Development Department become Dalit-Adivasi-Queer-Women friendly
- An increase in the hostel allowance of SC/ST students to ₹ 7,000
- Setting up temporary hostels for the boys until permanent ones are set up
- State takes full responsibility for running these hostels
- Review of curfew in the hostel from 6pm to 8pm
- Not happy with the TEO’s decision to appoint the district collector and other such officers of the tribal department as local guardians of students, and finally the transfer of Aluva TEO R. Anoop.
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