The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Month-old body steers student strike

New Delhi, May 23: Hundreds of water bottles for those on hunger strike, “we’re with you” exhortations by senior faculty, deadlocked talks and defiant students kept the anti-reservation strike going on its tenth day today.

Operating under the umbrella organisation Youth for Equality, medical students and resident doctors refused to budge from their demand for an independent commission to assess the impact of reservations on society.

A month after it was conceived at an informal meeting of 10 students in the boys’ hostel of the University College of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, the Youth for Equality claims it has a membership of thousands of students from 900 institutions across the country. It has a website, a logo, and an organisational structure.

“This arose as a spontaneous students’ movement that is now growing on its own,” said Dr Anandita Sinha, a senior resident doctor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and a member of the organisation’s legal committee.

The organisation’s members admit they have been consulting senior “legal and other experts” about how to negotiate with the government. “The experts don’t want to be named,” said Dr Anirudh Lochan from the University College of Medical Sciences. “It was through such consultations that we learnt it was important we ask for an independent commission whose findings have to be made public.”

Some members are worried that “interested organisations” are trying to “exploit or hijack” their movement. “I think there are organisations out there who want to bring violence into our peaceful protests,” Lochan said.

Lochan said Youth For Equality members had to frantically make reassuring phone calls to keep students of Meerut Medical College from rushing out on the streets last night after they received an SMS falsely claiming that a student on hunger strike in Delhi had died. “It was a false SMS. There are people who’re trying to take advantage of this situation,” another member said.

At the AIIMS, faculty supporting the strike today released data to show how reservation leads to complacency among students.

Between 1979 and 2000, 33 per cent of postgraduate seats at AIIMS were reserved for students from the institute. A Supreme Court ruling put an end to this. In 2002, the first year without reservation, only one student from the AIIMS qualified among the 50 admitted to the postgraduate courses. The number has grown since. In 2005, six students were picked.

“It’s a good example how crutches of reservation tend to suppress hard work and lead to complacency,” said Ashish Suri, a neurosurgeon at the AIIMS.

Students say the faculty and doctors from outside are supporting the strike through donations.

The Indian Institute of Technology Faculty Forum and its alumni association held a seminar on the proposed quota and offered alternative proposals for affirmative action.

“We won’t need reservations in higher and technical education if every child gets quality education at the school level,” Srinivas Murthy, professor of electrical engineering at IIT Delhi, said after visiting students at the AIIMS.

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