By Kumarjeet Ray:
The NALSAR University of Law is often thought to be the second-best law school in India. Every year it admits 120 students from different backgrounds in its LLB course while it admits 60 students for its LLM course.
As every government educational institute, there exists a caste-based reservation system for admission the college. Despite this, the college chooses to remain oblivious to the concerns of most students from marginalised communities.
Thus, owing to that, recently, a group of like-minded students in NALSAR started what is now called the ‘Savitribai Intersectional Study Circle’. The forum which is open to members of all caste and communities is aimed at highlighting the problems faced by the reserved category students/students identifying with any marginalised community in a college that simply refuses to accept that the problem of caste discrimination exists on campus. The three-month-old forum has managed to achieve a lot off late, on campus.
One of the foremost things that the forum managed to achieve in a short span of time is to make the students in the college realise that the caste problem very much exists on campus and students from marginalised communities face systemic discrimination every day in college. This expressly came to light recently because of an event that transpired in college in the LLM Batch of 2018. Till then, everything that the forum did or tried to do was either branded ‘too sensitive’ or was too subtle for the people not part of the experience to understand.
The event that has been referred to in the previous paragraph rocked the college during the week of the final exam when it finally came to light. It all started when a Dalit LLM student distributed sweets to his class and hostel mates on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti. Two days later, April 16, was one of the highlights of every NALSAR academic year – the ‘daaru’ party. It is a party that the outgoing LLB batch throws for everyone on campus. It is safe to say that everyone gets really drunk and some even lose their memory of the night, sometimes quite conveniently at that.
Thus, on the night of the party, the events that transpired would be vivid in the memory of NALSAR for a long time to come now. An upper caste LLM student got really drunk at the party. He then went back to his hostel, straight to the room of the LLM student who had distributed sweets on Ambedkar Jayanti and shut his laptop down for not attending the party and working on his final LLM presentation work instead; the deadline for which was two days after the date of the party.
He then threatened and attempted to beat up the Dalit student after showering casteist slurs on him. But thankfully, the Dalit student was saved by multiple others who were present in the room. These people also happened to be the first people in NALSAR to witness an act of caste-based violence on campus.
A Dalit student collective, (of which the author was a part of and thus his knowledge of all the events that had transpired before and after) among the aforementioned forum then got together and lodged a complaint with the college’s SC/ST Cell and the teacher in charge had assured these students that strict action will be taken against the culprit within seven days, as is the procedure.
The Vice-Chancellor had already previously assured students that if any act of physical or verbal violence takes place against a member of the SC/ST community on campus, then he will not only remove the person from them from the post but would also remove them from the University. This assurance was given when the forum formally complained to the VC that a member of the teaching staff had passed casteist comments while teaching in class. While no one knows what happened to that, it is quite interesting as to how this particular case was dealt with. Hopes were high of punishment in this case as there were witnesses to the incident and this being the first such instance of violence against a member of the Dalit community, people expected the administration to crack down hard on the culprit.
But when you belong to a marginalised community, what you hope for, and what you are often promised doesn’t turn into reality. This case also threatened to be of the same order. 11 days after lodging the complaint; four days after the expiry of the final date of the order, the student representative to the SC/ST Cell’s Inquiry Committee on campus had resigned from her post due to the committee’s inaction. She said, “I have resigned from the inquiry committee since I could see no culture of sensitivity and sensibility towards the question of caste and casteism. Hence, I felt sitting in the inquiry committee would only validate such insensitive quorum. Therefore, I withdrew.” Thus, no ‘strict’ punishment was meted out. There was in fact, no punishment at all until that time.
Students from the Dalit community then decided that nothing much could be expected from individuals who don’t have to deal with caste-based violence in an elitist college and took to social media in the hope that someone will hear them and help them build up a strong countervailing power to force the administration into action.
I feel proud today to say that the strategy of a handful of marginalised students worked beautifully and forced the administration into action. The posts went viral with ex-professors, professors, ex-students, and students responded in support for the cause. On the very next day when a representation of students appeared in front of the Vice Chancellor of the college, little was expected, and the fight for justice seemed to be long. But thanks to all the support and the power gathered by the students of the Dalit community, he very gracefully albeit with initial reluctance agreed to concede to every demand made by the victim as well as the students of the Dalit community.
In conclusion, not only is this a major victory for the Dalit community in NALSAR University of law but also a major victory in intersectional student politics in a time when politics and policy is pushing the marginalised further away from the mainstream.
It is also a major victory in a college that refuses to acknowledge that a caste problem exists even now. But for the SC/ST students in NALSAR, the fight is going to be long and arduous. Many institutionalised discriminatory practices exist on campus, and the students need to slowly ensure that they are weeded out so that NALSAR University can truly be the ‘Justice City’ that it claims to be in its postal address. But surely, the power and unity shown by the Dalit students of the college and the empathy shown by a huge number of students from other social backgrounds point towards a brighter future for intersectional politics in the college.