A ‘Bharat Bandh’ was organised on 5th March, Tuesday in protest against the 13 point roster system of teachers’ appointments and the Supreme Court order on tribal evictions. Various organisations, parties and leaders supported it.
Thousands of students, teachers, political figures and Dalit and Adivasi activists, among others, marched in different parts of the country demanding ordinances by the government against the 13 point roster system of faculty appointments and the recent Supreme Court order on evictions of tribal and forest dwellers.
5 March marked the one year anniversary of the 13 point roster system, the notification for which was first made by the University Grants Commission (UGC) on 5 March 2018, following an April 2017 order by the Allahabad High Court.
The 13 point roster system had been one of the major focal points of university protests over the last few months. Teachers and students alike had been protesting against the system, which was seen as a measure that could drastically reduce the number of SC/ST/OBC teachers in universities.
The Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) had held sustained protests over the last few weeks including organising a human chain, a candlelight vigil and a “total strike” demanding an ordinance by the government to restore the old 200 point roster system.
Another controversial issue had been the 13 February Supreme Court order directing the states to evict those tribals and forest dwellers whose claims over forest land were rejected as per the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006. However, hearing pleas from the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry and the Gujarat government, the apex court put a stay on its order on 28 February. The initial order was expected to affect over 11 lakh tribals and forest dwellers.
Despite the stay, Dalit and Adivasi rights’ organisation – wary of the possibility that the stay order could get overturned – called for the Bandh, demanding an ordinance from the centre to protect their rights.
The call for the Bandh drew widespread support from various political parties. According to a press release made by DUTA on Tuesday, “prominent opposition leaders like Ali Anwar, Manoj Jha (RJD), Nilotpal Basu (CPI[M]), Kiran Walia (INC) etc” joined the association’s rally, which also “drew support from the Left parties, Samajwadi Party, Aam Aadmi Party and Bhim Army.”
According to Times of India, Adivasi Adhikar Andolan, All India Ambedkar Mahasabha and Samvidhan Bachao Sangharsh Samiti were among the groups which had called for a march from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar in Delhi on Tuesday.
Other organisations like All India Forum for Social Justice, All India Forum for Right to Education, Krantikari Yuva Sangathan etc were also a part of the protests.
As reported by The Indian Express, Ashok Bharti from the All India Ambedkar Mahasabha said, “Most leaders except for (BSP chief) Mayawati have supported the issues we raised; there has been no statement from her or her party. If the government fails to bring in either of the two ordinances before the model code of conduct is announced, we will declare our further course of action.”
Several political leaders including Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Manoj Jha, Tejashwi Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan tweeted or gave statements backing the protests, the report also said.
‘#5MarchBharatBandh’ trended widely on Twitter with over 30 thousand tweets by the night of 4 March.
Responding to the protests, Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar on Tuesday said, “Few groups have decided to agitate. I would like to assure them that they need not agitate, the government will do justice. We will bring the 200-point reservation roster and how we will do it will be clear within two days,” PTI reported.
Prior to this, the Supreme Court had rejected a special leave petition by the HRD Ministry against the Allahabad High Court’s order, following which it also dismissed a review petition filed by the Ministry.
The DUTA press release also mentioned that the association would await the government’s response and review its strike programme on 8 March, Friday.
Ms Abha Dev Habib, former Executive Councillor of Delhi University, while speaking to DU Beat, said, “It is important to have constitutionally mandated representation in teaching positions. Department-wise roster will mean that not only the first generation of teachers from ST/SC and OBC will be pushed out but also aspiring researchers and students will not find space in colleges and universities. This is so to keep them out from knowledge production and opportunity of leadership roles. The whole idea of reservation was to bring marginalised sections to the mainstream to strengthen democracy.”
Asked about whether the protests went as she had expected, Ms Habib said that she came back “full of optimism” as the “young are determined to fight for their rights!”
Feature Image credits – Abha Dev Habib, DUTA