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HNLU And Its Protest Against Patriarchy: A New Dawn

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It’s Day Four. The protest still continues. But some key changes have taken place over the days. Some expected and some out of the blue. I’ll start with the former: the warden of the Girls hostel who has found herself in the eye of the storm tried to lecture the students how everything she did was for their benefit after all and the few ‘not-so-good’ things that she did were done solely out of compulsion from the now-ex VC. Oh to talk about the ‘now-ex VC’, let me jump to all those beautiful things that happened in the last few days. Wednesday at 2.30 pm, walked in a man, who was till then known as the Principal Law Secretary of Chhattisgarh, on the campus and took charge as the new interim VC. The reputation that precedes him makes him a stickler for honesty who hated the guts of the ‘now-ex VC’. Oh to talk about him (again), he is nowhere to be seen. The man who ruled this 110 acres according to his whims and fancies did not get as much as a good-bye from anyone from the University. The new VC accepted most of the demands put forth to him by the students. All he wanted in return was a few days to assess the logistics involved to implement those demands. And, he wanted the students to resume classes. After classes, they could continue the protest. As if they needed anyone’s permission!

There is a lot of caution that the students are exercising before celebrating the new era that the new VC brought with him. ‘There is nothing in writing’ being the primary reason. Despite having multiple video footages where the man accepted most of the demands without any qualification, the students are too wary of the “yes we will see’s” that the administration has thrown at them time and again. As recent as last Monday, the first night of the protest, the Controller of Examination started with a promise to ‘take care’ of all the demands and then ended up giving instances of how many ways the administration can selectively implement the University rules to get back at the students for having taken a stance against the administration (the funniest one being an affidavit signed by every student as a precondition for admission to this institution stating that no student would participate in any activity against the administration). ‘No one trusts what they say’.

The now-ex VC would say something to appease a demand which caused him some momentary discomfort and then subsequently blame the students for something that is not even remotely related to that demand: “You want more funds for the college fest? But what about all the students who do not attend classes?” The students are fed up, in general, but more particularly of this “haa dekhte hai” attitude of the administration. Thus, despite a new man coming to take charge who calls himself as a part of the HNLU family from day one, who promises to have as many sittings with the general body as required, who says he believes in no-curfew timings on a principle level (something no other member of the administration had done), who says he would consider removing the Controller of Examination, who says ‘absolutely’ to the demand of investigations against the teachers, the students have decided the protest must go on. They say that till every single demand is addressed to their satisfaction and written on paper and sealed, they won’t stop this good fight.

So, what are the demands?

This disruptive energy owes its origin to the August 27 order of the Chhattisgarh High Court removing the now-ex VC of HNLU. The SBA declared that they would fight for the removal of the VC, out of fear of an appeal being filed and a stay order being granted in favour of the VC. Taking a cue from this, messages started being circulated urging students not to return to their hostels, that tonight was the perfect time to finally put a full stop on the many horrible misogynistic rules and customs in HNLU (curfew being one of them).

As the students gathered and the first night came to pass, they started talking amongst themselves about issues that concerned all of them. For the first time, all the grievances that they would harbour and which would be let out only within the four walls of the hostel rooms started getting articulated and take the shape of concrete demands.

Everyone was fed up with the various accounts of corruption and the opaque nature of decision-making by the administration. The Corporate Hons Teacher and the Registrar were found to have sexually harassed not just one or two, but several students across every batch. The office bearers of the SBA filled in on how exactly things took the shape of colossal acts of corruption: 35 lakhs for a college Moot Court Competition, several lakh for a railing around the academic block.

Very soon, a four-page document was drafted after formal deliberations amongst all the students protesting. The alumni, who have expressed their support to this movement in various ways and some are known to have gasped for not being on campus when all this was finally happening, helped the students with their inputs. They provided them with their insights from the only other protest that took place in HNLU.

It was felt that there should be a review commission to look at the affairs of the University, to assess how bad things really are, to punish those who syphoned off money meant for students, to opine the changes that ought to be made. They called for transparency. It is their University, they should not only know what decisions are taken, but they should be the ones taking the decisions. They called for uploading of all rules and circulars on the official website. They demanded student representation in every Executive Council and Academic Council meetings. They were fed up with the misuse of positions of power. They called for the resignation of the Controller of Examination and the Warden for the Girls Hostel. They sought an independent mechanism to redress complaints of sexual harassment against the teachers.

It Is Not Over Yet

As of now, the newly appointed VC has asked for sometime before he can say for certain how and by what time the demands would be addressed. Till then the protest goes on. The students are attending classes. But they wore black as a mark of protest. They assembled during the half-an-hour break and showed solidarity with the cause. They marched around the campus with flashlights on as the evening came down. They won’t return to hostels when the clock strikes 10.30 pm.

There is scepticism. There are many ‘what-ifs’. There are many nightmares of the past haunting the students. But despite all this, they have found a bond with their university and with each other that they will share much after their college life is over. While they know that some teachers and the erstwhile administration would try every bit to stop any good from happening, they also know that HNLU is not just the students that are marching under the sun. HNLU is also the numerous alumni who have gone out of their way to help the movement. While they know that no change can come too soon, they also know that the beautiful starry sky that they have re-discovered over the past few nights is a source of inspiration, of freedom, of romance. While they are sceptic about the state of affairs, they are also fervent in their belief that HNLU is theirs and only theirs. No one would dare to try and take it away.

The author can be reached out at rishabh.wadhwani.hnlu@gmail.com

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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