They came for jobs and to defend the quota.
Thousands of students hit the streets of the national capital on Thursday, marching from Red Fort to Sansad Marg, to demand better employment and education opportunities in a show of strength that brought together youths from across the country.
The 6km march of more than 50 student and youth groups — from Nagaland in the Northeast to Maharashtra in the west, Punjab in the north and Tamil Nadu in the south — came on a chilly day that also saw hailstorms hit the capital later in the evening.
The main organisers of the march included the student and youth wings of the CPIML-Liberation, Samajwadi Party and Swaraj India. The Congress and the CPM — which command the support of two of India’s biggest student organisations, the NSUI and the SFI — stayed away.
The key demands of the Young India Adhikar March included filling up 24 lakh government vacancies, removal of the new roster system of hiring university teachers that reduces the chances of hiring faculty from the socially underprivileged sections, spending 10 per cent of the GDP on education, and an unemployment dole of Rs 18,000.
“Today reminds us of the JP movement when a strong youth revolution dislodged the government…. If you want to keep the 13-point roster, give first preference to the weakest sections that are Adivasis, then Dalits, then OBCs and then the rest. But your mentality is such that you don’t want the oppressed to reach universities,” Samajwadi MP Dharmendra Yadav, one of the two parliamentarians on the stage, told the protesters.
“I feel very happy and proud to be here and see so many young people,” said DMK MP Kanimozhi. “We have come here to free India… from this fascist government…. Every student who dares to raise their voice against them (the government) is being silenced. We’re here to say we won’t tolerate this any more.”
CPI national council member Kanhaiya Kumar also spoke at the event. “In a democracy, alternatives are not determined just in Parliament but also on the streets, in movements,” he said.
Among the other politicians on the stage were Danish Ali from the Janata Dal (Secular), CPIML-Liberation general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya and Swaraj India’s Yogendra Yadav.
Gujarat MLA and Dalit rights activist Jignesh Mevani said there was “no reason for the 69 per cent who did not vote for Modi to vote him this time. Today, we are seeing Opposition leaders targeted by the CBI. They are behind Akhilesh Yadav, Lalu Yadav, Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal. We should ask why they aren’t acting against Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and Jay Shah.”
The “Young India Charter” released by the student groups called for ending “saffronisation of education”, ensuring “academic freedom and freedom of expression” on campuses and fulfilling “constitutionally mandated reservation”.