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Problems At Amity Law School: What Might Have Driven Sushant Rohilla To Suicide

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By Abhishek Jha:

After protests this week at Amity University (AU) by students and alumni of Amity Law School, Delhi (ALSD), and the family of Sushant Rohilla, Director B. P. Sehgal and faculty member Isheeta Rutabhasini resigned on August 19. However, Keshav Dutta, an ALSD graduate leading the protests told YKA that they still demand institutional reforms, which he says will be taken up with the administration next week.

Sushant Rohilla, a third year ALSD student, had committed suicide on August 10, three months after he was debarred from his sixth semester exams. Students and Rohilla’s family had blamed mental harassment by the college as the reason for his suicide. Since the protests began at Amity University, students had also made specific allegations against Professor Rutabhasini and demanded her resignation.

Disputes Over Rohilla’s Attendance

The reason the administration offered for Rohilla’s debarment from exams was that his attendance was poor and below the mandatory 70 percent. His “Physical Attendance Status”, as furnished by the administration in a press conference on August 17, was 43 percent. The students, however, allege that this physical attendance is not sufficient for fulfilling the attendance criterion to be eligible for admission. The ALSD is approved by the Bar Council of India, which requires it to follow BCI’s norms. The Rules of Legal Education- 2008, framed by the BCI, require attendance to be calculated after including moot court room exercises, tutorials, and practical training apart from classes.

When this was pointed out to Savita Mehta, VP (communications) at Amity, she contended that this physical attendance includes Rohilla’s attendance in extra-curricular activities. The interim report of the fact finding committee constituted to look into the incident also says that the percentage includes 29 percent classroom attendance and “additional attendance for activities like moot court competitions, etc”. The committee was, however, not been able to meet the Director or the professor, the report says, as they “have been asked to proceed on leave”. The committee first met on August 17 and the final report is still awaited.

Ritwick Shrivastav, Moot Court Society President at ALSD, told YKA that Prof. Rutabhasini, who was in charge of ensuring attendance for those organising moots, had assured Rohilla that his attendance will be compensated and apparently did not do so adequately. Arranging sponsorship, accommodation for participants, inviting participants, etc, had begun as early as in October last year, Shrivastav says, affecting Rohilla’s attendance, who was working for the competition despite an injury to his leg. Moreover, he was also involved with a magazine printed after the completion of a national moot competition, with the debating society, and also participated in debates and moots himself. When enquired about the professor’s involvement with organising moots on campus, Mehta said that all faculty members are involved with organising the competition.

No Clear Guidelines In ALSD For Attendance – Students, Alumni

Moot court competitions, a staple at law schools, are mock court-trial competitions. Shrivastav says that law colleges usually have clearly laid down processes for being exempted from attending classes, which is missing at ALSD. The National Law University, Delhi, (NLUD) for instance has a clearly defined Moot Court Committee Policy. Its 2016 policy, for instance, requires students to furnish a consolidated form where they can inform the University of the dates and time slots for which they are seeking academic leaves. The leaves taken are deducted from the total number of working days to calculate percentage attendance, a student there told YKA. This form, that YKA has accessed, also informs the student of the maximum expenditure that the University will compensate at various levels of the competition.

Apar Gupta, an advocate who practises in Delhi, who is an alumnus of ALSD and has also been a visiting lecturer there, says that even at his time the attendance criteria were not “well-defined”. “They (attendance guidelines) were not clearly communicated and to a large degree they rested with several faculty members. There was no precise examination or attendance committee head or in-charge,” he told YKA. While he himself, he says, was never detained, some of his batch mates were even when their attendance was the same as his in class “which is physical attendance”. This, he alleges, led to arbitrary detentions and “attendance as an issue itself was used in a lot of instances by teachers to take out personal grudges and vendettas against students”. An Attendance Committee Incharge though now seems to be in place at ALSD, an email from whom was accessed by the fact-finding committee.

When asked specifically about any moot court policies or guidelines at ALSD, Mehta said that ALSD too gives attendance for participating in extra-curricular activities. The fact-finding committee too has observed that the College “had been liberal in terms of granting extra attendance” but makes no mention of documents, regulations, or guidelines for requesting such extra attendance or leaves. Exploitation of this supposed lack of definite processes by the college’s individuals remains a contention.

Unlike ALSD, where Mehta said all faculty members are involved with organising moots, NLUD also has a specific faculty advisor for the moot-court committee. A student there involved with organising the Vis (an international moot held in Vienna and Hong Kong) pre-moots in India last year says that they approach their faculty advisor, who gets the number of required academic leaves sanctioned by the VC. “As far as attendance goes, there has never been an issue in our college. Our college has been very forthcoming in providing academic leaves, because it encourages participation,” she told YKA.

The Problems With Professors At ALSD

But does classroom learning not matter in law schools? Gupta, who has also taught at NLSIU Bangalore and NLUD apart from ALSD, says that it does later on, although practice does not draw directly from it, in that it gives a good theoretical basis to students as well as teaches them certain fundamentals of law. However, the specific problems of ALSD might have to do with the teachers it ends up employing, Apar says, due to the control that the Ritnand Balved Education Foundation, that runs Amity University, exercises on it. He says that the quality of faculty there at his time was “horrendous” and they failed to communicate the subject to the students. Once when he repeatedly asked a question in the class which the lecturer could not answer, he was asked to take the class. “And I took a class for fifteen minutes after that,” he says.

It is not surprising then that students have made serious allegations against Professor Isheeta Rutabhasini. A former student associated with organising moots wrote in an email to the protesting students, a copy of which YKA has accessed, detailing knowledge of misappropriation of competition funds by the professor. The student, however, adds that despite being “quite certain” of embezzlement, the “same may only be verified through documents which i hope the inquiry committee can lay its hands on (sic)”. Such knowledge, students who know of Rohilla’s fear of the professor say, could have been the reason for the alleged harassment by her.

However, Mehta contested these allegations about misappropriation. She told YKA that sponsorship is received through cheques. “Then how can there be misappropriation?” she said.

“I have had my own share of experiences with faculty which would confirm some of the allegations that are made against certain persons. However, at the same point of time, given that there are serious legal consequences, including criminal investigations against certain members, I would not like to comment, given I do not know these precise factual details of this incident,” Gupta told YKA when asked about the specific allegations against Prof. Rutabhasini. At the same time, he said that he would like to underscore that there is “a complete lack of empathy institutionally” towards students at ALSD. He hopes that the tragedy will lead to systems being put in place.

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