The Chhattisgarh High Court, on 27 August, in Dr. Avinash Samal v. State of Chhattisgarh, quashed the extension of tenure of Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU), Raipur Vice-Chancellor (VC), Prof. (Dr) Sukhpal Singh. However, despite the order, the path has been testing for the students, to say the least.
Scores of students camped overnight on campus in the open from 10:30 pm the same day, demanding that the judgment be “respected” and that Dr. Singh should not be allowed to continue as the VC.
Law students on strike in Raipur. Why aren’t the authorities stepping in to resolve this?
According to reports, the students were initially informed that the VC was contending appealing against the order. The HNLU Student Body Association then strongly opposed the appeal, reiterating its demand for his resignation. The protest continued, with the students used the hashtag #HNLUKiAzaadi across social media platforms.
It was only on the 3rd day of the protest that the Chancellor of the University appointed Mr. Ravi Shankar Sharma, the Principal Secretary, Government of Chhattisgarh, via notification as the interim Vice-Chancellor of the University. Mr. Sharma would be discharging his duties as the VC, in addition to his present responsibilities as the Principal Secretary, Law and Legislative Affairs Department, Government of Chhattisgarh.
Two rounds of discussions have since taken place between the student representatives and the VC—the former having placed a list of demands for enhanced transparency in the administration of the college.
A misinterpreted flashlight march
A silent flashlight march was also organized throughout the campus on August 30th, which was day-5 of the protest. However, as per the statement, Mr. Sharma “exhibited hostility” towards the students and their demands during the second round of discussion, allegedly due to him being “misinformed” about the nature of the march.
When enquired about the misunderstanding, students blamed it not just on innocent miscommunication, but also on adulterated information being passed on to him. According to a student, “It’s nothing but the undemocratic practices adopted by the administration already in the past. It’s an amalgamation of miscommunication, manipulation, and misinformation given in a platter to the VC. Since it’s his own faculty, thus it is better acknowledged without a question in contrast.”
Another student chimed in, explaining, “Yes, one can say that the adulterated information give by teachers is the answer but the other could be his inability to stop this protest which forced him to blame students and win in his own mind”
Nevertheless, a delegation of student representatives was successful in later explaining and clarifying the nature and purpose of the march to him in his chamber, whereafter he changed his mind and assured another meeting on 5 September.
Alleged penalization of female students
Students have also been protesting against the appointment of faculty members as wardens, which is an administrative position, claiming that this leads to arbitrariness and bias in their conduct towards them. Besides, they have specifically levelled allegations against the girls’ hostel warden, claiming that she has repeatedly indulged in moral policing. Speaking to LiveLaw, students recalled being told off for their clothes and conduct.
A student told us, “I was caught drunk and she called my parents up and said that I wear ‘party clothes’ to class and that I hang out with the wrong sort of boys.”
“We were threatened with a show cause notice if we entered campus at 12 am because the wardens were too scared to take responsibility for our safety. They were utterly apathetic to the fact that we had nowhere else to go and even went as far as suggesting that we rent a hotel room somewhere in the city instead of coming back to college,” another student recalled.
The parents of a female student were called up and told that the college authorities had photos of their daughter going to places and wearing clothes that they wouldn’t approve of. However, when asked for proof of such photos, they apparently had nothing to show.
In another such incident, the parents of a student, who was clinically depressed, urged the hostel authorities to allot her a room closer to her friends. The parents were however told that their daughter did not have a grip on the issues and problems that actually plague the world.
All such instances have naturally culminated in the students joining forces to vehemently protest the treatment meted out to them by college authorities.
Statement of solidarity issued by students of NALSAR, NLSIU, NUJS, NLUD, NLUJ and NLIU
Meanwhile, a statement of solidarity has been issued by the students of NALSAR, NLSIU, NUJS, NLU-D, NLU-J and NLIU, extending their support to the students of HNLU as well as all other NLUs confronting similar administrative issues.
Further, the student bodies of NLSIU, NALSAR and NUJS also recalled and emphasized on their previously released statement calling for the nationalisation and grant of Institutes of National Importance (INI) status to NLUs.
“This would ensure a centralization of administration and accountable systems across all the law schools in India, leading to uniform administrative regulations, academic standards and centralized funding. We implore for the same, yet again,” their statement said.
They also reiterated the founding idea of National Law Universities which were created as ‘islands of legal excellence’ to build a generation of ‘social engineers’, adding, “However, in the absence of efficient administration coupled with a lack of systematic accountability forces, students in most of the NLUs are burdened with the responsibility to initiate basic reforms and maintain constant vigil over administrative decisions. This fight for minimum standards and a right to decent education leaves the students too drained and disillusioned to be of any use to the society.”
List of demands
Here are some of the demands made by the students:
- Constitution of a search committee in accordance with Section 19 of the Hidayatullah National University of Law Chhattisgarh Adhiniyam, 2003.
- Complete removal of curfew timing of 10:30 pm, and extension of library timings from the present 10 PM to 3 AM.
- Appointment of independent Wardens of the Halls of the Residence, permanent registrar, recruiting officer, and non-teaching administrative staff.
- Constitution of a review commission in accordance with Section 19 of the HNLU Act to review the working of the university and to make recommendations.
- Formulation of a mechanism to include student feedback on quality of teaching, quality of the food provided in mess/canteen/cafeteria, quality of internet, quality of services provided by the shops of the utility centre and other services and institutional infrastructure, and to incorporate these feedbacks during the assessment of these services.
- Publication of minutes of meetings of the last three meetings of Executive Council, Academic Council and Finance Council, on the university website.
- Amendment of the provisions of the Hidayatullah National Law University, Chhattisgarh Act, 2003, under section 15(3) to allow two student representatives, as nominated by the Student Bar Association, in the Academic and Executive Council of the university.
- Publication on the university website details such as a statement of the boards, councils, committees and other bodies; monthly remuneration received by each of its officers and employees; budget allocated to each of its agency; names, designations and other particulars of the Public Information Officers; etc.
- Change in definition of “First Attempt of an Examination”, to include sitting for an examination by a student in the successive academic year, by reason of his inability to write the examination as per the schedule of the curriculum on account of circumstances beyond his control.
- Drafting of all the existing Academic, Library, Halls Of Residence, Disciplinary and Examination rules into a single document in form of a Student Manual.
- Bifurcation of tender for hostel mess, canteen and cafeteria to avoid monopoly.
- Ratification of the Student Bar Association’s Constitution.
- Organisation of convocation ceremonies every year.