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India: Invitation to the Press from Campaign Against Government of India (GOI) Committing Higher Education to WTO-GATS (2 Oct 2015, New Delhi)

1 October 2015

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“Sarkaar ko Majboor Karo! WTO Bhagao!! Shiksha Bachao!!”

On 2nd October 2015 SATYAGRAHA will be held at Rajghat demanding withdrawal of the offer of higher education to WTO-GATS. We will gather at 9.30 am and will continue the satyagraha till 2pm.

Campaign Against Government of India (GOI) Committing Higher Education to WTO-GATS

Dear Friend,

The All-India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE) was formed in 2009 to struggle for a common education system of equitable quality from KG to PG which would be fully funded by the State and be governed in a democratic, decentralized and participatory manner. To this end, AIFRTE has carried on many campaigns exposing inequitable educational policies, e.g. the legal framework provided by the RTE Act 2009 for a discriminatory multi-layered system of education in violation of the letter and spirit of the Indian Constitution; closure/merger of over a lakh schools across the country; privatization and commercialization of education through PPP policies and voucher system schemes; unregulated, sky-rocketing fees in private higher education institutions particularly in professional and technical education; savage cuts in budget for education; and contractualization of faculty positions and introduction of self-financing courses even in state-funded universities and colleges.

Today, higher education in India is faced with its gravest threat. Already in a state of crisis as a result of years of overload in conditions of financial and academic neglect, it is now being subjected to authoritarian functioning, loss of autonomy, sudden and frequent imposition of academic schemes and structural changes without due consideration and adequate debate among students and teachers, lack of facilities and an acute shortage of permanent faculty.

The withdrawal of the state from its obligation to sustain this significant social sector has facilitated the trend to privatize and commercialize universities, colleges, and technical and professional courses has gathered momentum over the last two decades. Over the past twenty years education policies have tried to justify this anti-student and anti-faculty trend by distorting the very nature of knowledge itself. It is claimed that higher education is an investment made by the student-consumer who purchases a `service’ offered by an educational degree-provider for enhancing her own market value. Hence the “user pays” principle should apply here just as in any other market transaction.

The intention and goal of creating a market for educational-corporations to profiteer at the expense of the academic community of students and teachers has acquired global proportions with the entry of the World Trade Organization (WTO) with its General Agreement of Trade in Services (GATS) into the fray to regulate this `trade in knowledge’. GOI’s “offer of market access” to higher education will bring this sector under the control of the WTO-GATS regime if it is not withdrawn before the conclusion of the Doha Round negotiations at the Tenth Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya in December 2015. If GOI fails to withdraw its offer, higher education in India will no longer be governed by our academic and political institutions and laws. This will seriously affect the on-going struggles of students and teachers to democratize higher education and enlarge autonomy. In what will also be a severe blow to national sovereignty, the WTO-GATS regime will gain control over India’s higher education “in perpetuity”.

The National Council of the AIFRTE held at Sewagram from 14th -16th June 2015 resolved to resist this serious threat in association with organizations of students, teachers, karamcharis and other democratic sections of the people in order to mount a campaign for compelling GOI to withdraw its offer before the Nairobi meeting. AIFRTE and many fraternal organizations across the country have already initiated the campaign on 9th August 2015 (the anniversary of `Quit India Day’ 1942) with meetings, dharnas and protests which are still continuing in many states.

The organisations and individuals who have taken part in the protests belong to many ideologies including Gandhites, Ambedkarites, Socialists and Communists and are drawn from different education-loving sections of the people from all walks of life. The campaign is aimed at a wide section of people in terms of opinion mobilization and the programmes endeavor to be persuasive and compelling so that GOI is pressurized to withdraw higher education from WTO-GATS.

The second phase of the campaign ‘All India Pledge Week’ began in Punjab on 28th September the birth anniversary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh. People gathered at Bhagat Singh’s village and raised the slogan “Sarkaar ko Majboor Karo! WTO Bhagao!! Shiksha Bachao!!”

Students for Society, Punjab University, Chandigarh also observed the birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh on 29th September with a meeting to demand withdrawal of the GOI’s offer of higher education to the WTO-GATS. Revolutionary songs and a play were also performed.

On 30th September a signature campaign was conducted at the Vishwavidyalay Metro Station from 1 pm – 3pm. Signatures were also collected at other universities in Delhi.

On 2nd October 2015 a satyagraha will be held at Rajghat demanding withdrawal of the offer to WTO-GATS. We will gather at 9.30 am and will continue the satyagraha till 2 pm.

“Sarkaar ko Majboor Karo! WTO Bhagao!! Shiksha Bachao!!”
A ‘Joint Co-ordination Committee Against Committing Higher Education to WTO’ has been formed which is headed by Justice Rajinder Sachar. Already many Delhi-based organizations have joined to strengthen this common struggle.

We request you to send your reporter/ cameraperson to come to the Satyagraha at Rajghat on 2nd October 2015 and give it an appropriate coverage in your esteemed publication/ channel.

Yours Sincerely,
Madhu Prasad (Presidium, AIFRTE)
Vikas Gupta (National Executive, AIFRTE)
Prem Chand (National Executive, AIFRTE)