The dean of the Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Land Reclamation threatened to invalidate transcripts of students who did not participate in the 2015 cotton harvest, a move that would effectively expel them from school. More than 100 students are at risk, and some report the dean demanded bribes in exchange for not expelling the students. The university claims participation in the cotton harvest is a course requirement, but the students reported it is merely labor exploitation, in interviews with Radio Ozodlik.
Fourth-year students in the Hydro Amelioration and Hydraulic Engineering faculty reported the dean offered them the option of paying a bribe. The students requested anonymity to avoid retaliation. One of the students explained:
“Now, the dean withdrew our student records. We cannot get our grades registered there. He said: ‘You did not go cotton harvesting. You did not pick cotton. We fulfilled the quota without you. We paid this money. Therefore, you should give money; otherwise, your parents should come.’ And thereafter we could not access our student records.”
Another student, whose records were also withdrawn by the dean for not picking cotton, added that by not registering grades in the students’ records, the school is preventing the students from advancing in school. The student said:
“If they will not give us our student records, our grades cannot be recorded. Those who do not have complete transcripts will be not allowed to take examinations. If they don’t let us take the exams, we will either be expelled from the studies or held back. They withdrew the records of more then 100 students.”
Radio Ozodlik contacted the administration of the Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Land Reclamation and asked about the problems students reported.
A representative of the university administration told Ozodlik that cotton harvesting is a required internship. Students who do not participate are considered to have not fully completed the coursework.
The official denied that the students who did not participate at the cotton harvesting are required to pay money. The official said:
“Cotton is a part of practical exercise. Those who did not attend cotton harvesting are considered to have not completed the internship. It means that the student did not fulfil the study requirements; therefore, s/he has to accomplish it later.”
According to university rules, a student who did not accomplished the study plan can be expelled or held back.
Mobilizing university and college (high-school) students for the cotton harvest is an annual practice, at the start of the school year. Typically, Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Land Reclamation and the Agricultural University are the first to send students to pick the cotton.
The students are a low-cost labor force. Academic instruction is put aside, and they pick cotton for a couple months. A student oft he Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Land Reclamation said:
“What is the connection between the cotton harvesting and study? The purpose is to use students as a free labour force“.
An Uzbek lawyer and expert in national law said,
“I could not find any legal basis to this in any Uzbek laws. The students of the Institute of Land Reclamation could have an internship for which they go to the cotton fields, but the work would have to relate to their studies. It is not legal to force them to pick cotton. Calling it an internship does not change that it is forced labor.”
Source: Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty Uzbek Service “Ozodlik,” “Ирригация институти талабалари пахтага чиқмагани учун ўқишдан ҳайдалиши мумкин,” 9.03.2016,http://www.ozodlik.org/content/article/27600365.html