The National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), Kochi, over the past two years, has been in the news for the wrong reasons, multiple times. It is highly likely that the only articles about NUALS which a person might have read on platforms like Lawctopus and Legally India are related to sexism in the college and how incapable the administration has been in controlling crises. But is it all that NUALS stands for? Here is the other side of the institution.
Sexism is a reality in NUALS as well, like a lot of other colleges in India. The university and hostel rules are the same for both boys and girls on paper, though they differ when it comes to implementation of these rules. All students are asked to be inside the college gates by 7 pm, but the actual practice depends on a person’s traditionally defined gender. While the female students are more often than not taken to the warden and asked for an explanation whenever they are late, the male students can move in and out freely even at 9 pm. There have been multiple instances where officials who are incompetent to frame hostel rules bring forth new rules, sometimes even without proper notification. The student community consistently demanded to either allow female students the same freedom that male students enjoy or impose the same restrictions on all students irrespective of their gender.
The issue was raised a dozen times before the hostel administration, which often used the age-old ‘security concern’ argument to justify its actions. However, things have gradually become better. NUALS hostels are relatively one of the liberal hostels among colleges in Kerala, and the administration has always been open to revisions of the rules. The hostel rules have become more liberal over the last two years. The hostel curfew which was fixed at 7 pm two years ago, was later extended to 9 pm, and further up to 11 pm for access to the library. The Registrar along with the Vice-Chancellor were quick to accept this amendment, and the students too were involved actively in this process of decision-making and change through the hostel committee and the mess committee.
One of the biggest crisis that the university faced was in March 2017. It was related to the issue of water contamination. The water being supplied to the hostel was found to be contaminated, and half a dozen students fell sick, allegedly due to the contaminated water. The student council, under the able leadership of chairman Jayashankar, was quick to step in. As the medical reports found the water not suitable for consumption and more students fell sick, the blame naturally fell on the administration. Though the administration was late to realise the issue, many fail to recognise the efforts that were taken later on by the administration to resolve the matter.
The Registrar was in constant communication with Kinfra (Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation), from where the college meets its water requirements, and the district collector of Ernakulam. An interactive session was organised by the college where medical practitioners engaged with the students. Students were told about all the precautions and symptoms of various diseases, and necessary action was taken following the session. On failing to meet the daily water demand from the Kerala Water Authority, private agencies were brought in to meet the demand.
During the span of the crisis, the college remained shut down for over a week initially. As the situation could still not be brought under control, the classes in the month of April were called off with the promise that the required class hours would be completed in the month of July. This decision was taken following an urgent executive committee meeting that was held, and the student council members also played a part in the decision-making process. These tough days saw the college administration lending an ear to every single student who could come up with suggestions on the possible steps to be taken.
The very act that such criticism about the college comes out openly shows the proactive effort on the part of the student community in the college. Prof. Dr Rose Varghese, the Vice-Chancellor of NUALS, is probably the most approachable VC, in whose office students can walk in any time and raise their issues. The administrative team of NUALS should not, in my opinion, be merely reduced to an incapable and sexist body. They are certainly more than that. As a note to my dear friends taking CLAT this year, NUALS is not entirely what you read about or hear about. It is worth experiencing right here.