Thousands of people from far and near, fom Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra, Telengana, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Delhi collected at Ramlila Maidan and then marched to Parliament Street demanding that the Government end the privatisation and commercialisation of Education and that Education be kept out of the WTO/GATS. Responding to the call of the National Platform in Defence of Education (NPDE), teachers from schools, universities and colleges, students, university employees, organisations working in the field of education, youth, women and concerned citizens moved towards Parliament Street, carrying banners, wearing placards round their necks and shouting slogans in various Indian languages.
The marchers reached Parliament Street at around 1.30 where the gathering was addressed by representatives of the many organisations who have become a part of the NPDE. These included the AIFUCTO, FEDCUTA, STFI (School Teachers Federation of India), AIUEC (All India University Employees Confederation), AIFRTE, All India Peoples’ Science Network, Forum for Engineering Professionals, many student organisations – SFI, AISF, AISA, AIDSO, Disha, Pachhaas, JNUSU – women’s organisations such as NFIW, AIDWA, AIMSS, etc. Participants also included teachers and employees from DU, AMU, Jamia, JNU, Ambedkar University, Pondicherry University and Visvabharati.
The NPDE had sent out an appeal to all Members of Parliament across the political spectrum urging their intervention during the Winter Session of Parliament which started today. Several Members of Parliament came and expressed solidarity with the protestors and assured them that they would raise the issue of withdrawing the “offer” made by the Government to open market access to Higher Education under WTO/GATS: Badruddoza Khan (Lok Sabha, West Bengal), Shankar Prasad Dutta (Lok Sabha, Tripura), K.J. Rakesh (Lok Sabha, Kerala), M.B. Rajesh (Rajya Sabha, Kerala) and Mani Shankar Aiyar (Rajya Sabha, Tamil Nadu).
It is clear from the conditions of the WTO/GATS that Education would become a completely commercial, for-profit business which would go out of the reach of the common people. Existing public funded institutions would be forced to commercialise or get destroyed as the government grants/subsidies on which they run would be withdrawn. The WTO/GATS regime would have its most adverse impact on the deprived sections of the people as Reservation would be ended, scholarships for needy students would be withdrawn and the needs of the girl child, the different -abled and the underprivileged would be ignored.
The organisers announced that the Rally held today was a first step to highlight the grave threat to Education from the WTO/GATS and other such (often secretly negotiated) trade deals and that the next step would be to constitute State level platforms to carry the campaign to the furthest reaches of the country and mobilise the common people from all walks of life to join the battle to save education for the future generations.