Syracuse University graduate students create petition standing in solidarity with Indian university students

Sixty-six members of the Syracuse University, Colgate University and SUNY-ESF communities have signed a statement of solidarity for students at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India.

Kanhaiya Kumar, the JNU student union head, organized a student protest at the university on Feb. 9 in response to the 2013 hanging of Mohammed Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri man convicted of the 2001 Parliament attacks, according to BBC. At the protest, “anti-India slogans” were allegedly raised.

As a result of the protest, Kumar was arrested by Indian law enforcement on sedition charges, according to BBC. Five other students were also named for arrest on the same charges, but those students went missing before the arrests could be made.

The signatories from SU, Colgate and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry said in a statement that they stand in solidarity with the “comrades” at JNU against the “ongoing anti-democratic actions by the Indian state.”

“We demand an immediate end to the police action against students on campus, and withdrawal of all charges against Kanhaiya Kumar, President of the JNU Students’ Union,” the petition reads. “We further demand that the Central Government put an immediate end to its prejudiced persecution of student activists on campuses across the country.”

The petition goes on to say that the signatories believe the arrest of Kumar was to root out dissenting voices on the JNU campus, a move intended to convert educational institutions like JNU into an arm of the authoritarian state, according to the petition.

The nature of the student protest held at JNU, the petition reads, was not violent by nature. According to the petition, the peaceful protest was similar to previous protests that have been held at the university in the past several decades.

“Dissent is an essential part of a healthy democracy. We therefore strongly condemn the Indian government’s response to the students’ protests and demand that the state refrain from authoritarian behaviour,” the petition reads. “In this spirit, we urge the vice chancellor of JNU to protect members of the university community and safeguard their democratic rights.”

Graduate students from SU created the petition after one of them received a request from a friend at JNU for a statement to be made. The students declined to give their names because they said the statement belongs to all 66 signatories and not just themselves.

The statement, the students said in a joint email, affirms their belief in the right to democratic dissent.

“While the events that took place at JNU are contested, and while signatories to the statement might also vary in their allegiances to the sentiments expressed at the protest meeting under the scanner, there is agreement on the right to free speech in a democracy,” the students said.

One reason why the graduate students said they started the petition is because as Indians living abroad but with close links to India, they feel helpless in their inability to aid those struggling.

They added that it is important for this issue to receive international attention. Statements of solidarity have already been made at several American universities, as well as schools in the United Kingdom and Pakistan, they said.

“The world seems to have this image of India being a ‘democracy’ and while in theory it is, it does not always function that way,” the students said. “So we wanted to raise awareness about what was going on. The most important reason was the need to demonstrate support from all corners of the world.”

The students said they hope the statement of solidarity will strengthen the student movement at JNU, put adequate pressure on the Indian government to drop all of the charges against the student activists and stop the further suffocation of university campuses.

The statement put forth by the SU, Colgate and SUNY-ESF communities was also part of a larger country-wide struggle for freedom of speech as similar incidents have occurred at other universities in India over the past two years, the SU students said.

Educational institutions in India are primary targets for the current Hindu fundamentalist government’s dissension “crackdowns,” the students said, since the government seeks to control the thought processes and minds of Indian students.

“But the JNU incident has already proved that such attempt by the state will not be successful,” the students said. “The academic community — both at home and globally — is determined to stand in solidarity with one another to fight against totalitarianism.”


Millennials Not Preparing For Retirement: Study

Millennials Not Preparing For Retirement: StudyNew Delhi: Millennials in India are not adequately preparing for the post-retirement life as retirees increasingly face a number of challenges, including higher medical and other expenses, amid weakening joint family system, says a study.

The Willis Towers Watson study discusses the challenges for individual employees in saving for retirement in an India that is grappling with globalisation, inflationary pressures, economic volatility and changing  lifestyles. For the first time, the global advisory firm said, it has devised modelling techniques quantifying the impact of inflation, living expenses and return on assets on the Net Replacement Rate (NRR), which is an effective measure for adequacy of post-retirement income.

“There is no measure of the most appropriate NRR, however, based on global experience, a 55 per cent to 65 per cent NRR can be considered reasonable,” said the study. NRR is the percentage of an employee’s post-tax pre-retirement income that is paid through post-tax post-retirement annuities (including employer sponsored  programmes).

“Various studies have revealed a discomforting observation that employed millennials are not confident of their planning for retirement,” Willis Towers Watson India Director Kulin Patel said. The study recommends a comprehensive and periodic assessment of retirement adequacy that duly incorporates the impact of inflation, living expenses and return on assets, on post-retirement income.

“It is high time that employers seize the opportunity to embed employee financial well-being into their EVP, especially educating and preparing employees for retirement. Else, a  decade or two down the line, the country could be facing a distressing scenario of retirees having inadequate income over a retirement period potentially longer than their earning lifetime,” said Vivek Nath, Managing Director, Willis Towers Watson India.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


Why the Centre and the ABVP must take classes on citizenship and democracy

Why the Centre and the ABVP must take classes on citizenship and democracy30.3K
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There are two forms of political engagement. In one, the exchange of ideas, and even intractable disagreements, are part of the rough and tumble of democratic politics. In the other, the coercive power of the State is used to settle all arguments forever.

The battle lines between proponents of these two forms of political engagement were firmly drawn this week, when union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, responding to complaints of his party’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad or ABVP sent the Delhi Police on to the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus, with the intention to intimidate an entire University.

Plainclothes policemen entered the JNU campus. A police photographer took pictures of students and faculty gathered at the university’s administrative block to protest the police presence and the arrest of students’ union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, on February 11.

Kumar has been remanded in police custody as the police “want to investigate any links he may have with terror organisations related to Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan”.

Central intervention

Rajnath Singh said the police were acting on his instructions. He pre-empted any formal investigation of a complaint and the verification of facts with his comments a day after Kumar’s arrest. “… about what has happened in JNU… I have given the police all instructions necessary in these situations,” he said. “…strict action will be taken against them… Under no circumstances will I forgive those who raise this type of anti-Indian slogan or who question the unity, integrity…. of India.”

With the might of the State against it, the faculty and students on the JNU campus feel like they are under siege. The University has a system of complaint redressal, and a committee was set up to inquire into the events of February 9. That day, students are said to have chanted “divisive” slogans at an event organised to discuss the execution of Parliament attack-accused Afzal Guru, and the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir.

While there was some dissatisfaction with the composition of the committee, everyone agreed it was within the norms set by the university. There was no disruption of work and classes. Life should have gone one as usual. Yet, the administration caved in under government pressure and allowed the police to enter the campus to do what it “deems fit” after receiving a letter saying there was “seditious activity” on the campus.

The everyday world of a university like JNU has room for all sorts of opinions and political affiliations. Even the students’ union is composed of three different political groupings, one of which is the BJP affiliate, the ABVP. That JNU students of the ABVP themselves summoned the coercive forces of the State has shaken the world of this campus, where hot words and angry arguments are usually the most extreme form of political engagement.

The Rohith connection?

A master’s student from the Hindi department, who was standing alone on the edge of the crowd of students gathered at the academic block, told me in a quiet voice that the police should not have been brought into disagreement between students. “This is a disagreement between students, even ABVP students are JNU students, why have they sent the police?” the student said. “I don’t agree with some of the slogans that were shouted [on Feburary 9]. But how can they arrest students for a slogan? I think because JNUSU supported Rohith Vemula and the government is looking bad because of Rohith Vemula, all these things – Siachen deaths, slogans etc., are being combined to attack JNU students.”

But, this is not the first time that the ABVP has acted in what might be a less-than-straightforward and collegial manner, and the BJP government has lent it active support. When wardens in JNU shut down a “havan” in a hostel room as a fire hazard, ABVP students filed a police complaint of sexual harassment and hurting religious sentiments against a Christian faculty member present. A university fact-finding committee has proven the claims false, yet a court case continues. At IIT Madras, a letter from the Human Resource Development ministry based on an “anonymous” complaint got the Ambedkar Study Circle banned. In Hyderabad, it was an ABVP student’s complaint to the same ministry via a BJP member of Parliament, and a court case his family filed, that escalated a campus students’ dispute into a battle between the BJP and non-ABVP students. This led the university administration to take disciplinary action against Rohith Vemula and his friends. In JNU this week, an ABVP complaint to the police and a BJP member of Parliament about a students’ dispute over slogans raised on campus unleashed the wrath of the union Home Minister against non-ABVP students.

ABVP vs the others

It is indicative of what the two sides in this battle represent that the ABVP massed non-student supporters from the neighbouring Munirka colony to protest against students inside JNU. It also held a demonstration at India Gate calling for the arrest of students in JNU.

The non-ABVP students have raised concerns about the police presence on their campus and against arbitrary arrests in the public spaces of the university. For the ABVP, this is clearly part of the Sangh Parivar’s battle to redefine the idea of India in which anyone who does not agree with them is a “desh drohi” or anti-national, but for the non-ABVP students, this is a battle for the rights of students at a university in India.

By bringing its clenched fist down on a university campus the government may be winning the battle of the airwaves, but it is not winning the battle for the hearts and minds of students in JNU.

“ABVP is always trying to say if you don’t agree with them you are anti-national, that is not a good argument,” said a woman, an undergraduate student from the School of Languages. She was one of a group of first-year undergraduates who have not joined the protests on campus because their parents told them not to. But they said they supported the protests in spirit because they felt Kumar’s arrest was wrong. “He is not the type to shout such slogans. Even if someone did, how can you put him in in jail?”

JNU legacy

The BJP and a segment of the media like to portray JNU as a hotbed of subversive political activity, or in the words of a BJP member, “a Maoist production factory”. This characterisation finds favour with those who watch aggressive television anchors shout their studio guests into submission or silence every night. But there is truth beyond television news.

A young woman from Assam, a first year MA student, tried to explain to me why she and her friends were going to join a student and faculty protest at the administrative block in JNU. “Look, you must understand, it was our dream to study in JNU,” she said. “Now we are finally here, and they are telling us that in JNU they teach us about terrorism, that we support terrorists! They have sent the police to arrest students! They are saying this university we worked hard to enter is a bad place and we are bad people. That is why we are going.”


There is a video now online of Kanhaiya Kumar, the students union president, who is spending this weekend in police remand. The video is an eloquent young man’s impassioned affirmation of the idea of India that was created through the struggle for independence, of democratic principles, the value of the Constitution and a denunciation of the “constitution written in Nagpur” (the home of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).

He clearly does not need lessons in nationalism from his political opponents. But his political opponents and our central government, however, could do with lessons in citizenship, how democracy functions, and on what universities are.

In a democracy a State does not intervene in the functioning of a university where life and limb are secure. Universities are not factories where people are beaten into identikit followers of state ideologies, but sanctuaries where young people can think, argue, debate and become the active questioning citizens that make democracies thrive.


Uber CEO Kalanick to Offer Startup Tips at IIT-Bombay

Uber CEO Kalanick to Offer Startup Tips at IIT-Bombay on January 19

Travis Kalanick, the co-founder and CEO of taxi-hailing service Uber, the most valuable start-up, will be in the city next week to address students of IIT-Bombay and share his own success story.

Kalanick, on his maiden trip to India, is among other top executives who will be in town to take part in the government’s Start-up India event scheduled for January 16.

He will be sharing the stage with over 40 CEOs and founders of start-ups, including SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son, at IIT-B, one of the country’s premier centres for start-up incubation.

Kalanick will be addressing the students on January 19.

Uber is also partnering with ‘Invest India’, an initiative under the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, and has already launched ‘UberExchnage’, a start-up mentorship programme.

The five-year-old US taxi aggregator, which is valued at $70 billion (roughly Rs. 4,67,856 crores), had announced last year it would invest $1 billion (roughly Rs. 6,683 crores) to build its India business.

At IIT-Bombay, Kalanick will speak to entrepreneur hopefuls on how to build a business, drawing parallels from his own entrepreneurial journey, and “what it takes to build the world’s fastest-growing start-up”.

The session is expected to see an attendance of over 2,500 students, start-up enthusiasts and local entrepreneurs.

Uber had a shaky start in the country after one of its drivers was arrested for raping a woman passenger in December 2014. The company is also under regulatory glare for alleged predatory pricing and business practices in many other countries.

Following these developments, the company has been investing heavily in safety measures in all markets, including India, Uber India President Amit Jain had said earlier.

Uber India has a driver base of over 1.5 lakh and is growing at about 40 per cent every month.

The company is up against Ola, the country’s top taxi aggregator. The Bhavish Aggarwal-led Ola has raised $1.3 billion (roughly Rs. 8,688 crores) of funds from major investors with a valuation of around $5 billion (roughly Rs. 3,3418 crores).

Globally, Uber’s rival Lyft announced last week that General Motors (GM) had partnered it to launch ‘self-driving’ cars. The American auto giant had invested $500 million in Lyft as part of a $1-billion round funding.