Hidayatullah National Law University, Chhattisgarh, has been witnessing student protests for the last two weeks. Students announced protest on August 27 against the now ex-Chancellor Sukh Pal Singh’s term extension, among various other administrative issues faced by students on a daily basis. Here’s a video by HNLU students explaining why they’re protesting.
Toshan Chandrakar, a student of HNLU, told Youth Ki Awaaz, “As I understand the situation that exists today, a university like HNLU which was established to be at par with IITs and IIMs has till date failed to deliver. The absence of schools of excellence is the primary reason for this. The administration has failed. So long this system prevails, nothing is going to happen. It’s time that we claim the universities. The universities are for the students, and we people should get representation in its decision making.”
As reported by India today, on August 27, the Chhattisgarh High Court ruled that the extension of the tenure of the university’s Vice-Chancellor Sukh Pal was illegal. The HNLU Student Body Association found out that Pal was planning to appeal against the order. Opposing the appeal, the student body protested and demanded Pal’s immediate removal from his post. They assembled outside the Vice-Chancellor’s office for three days. Finally, the administration and state government gave in and decided to appoint Ravi Shankar Sharma as the interim Vice-Chancellor.
The protest covers many demands, and the appointment of an interim vice-chancellor was one of them. Here is a list of the main demands by the Student body:
The wardens of the hostel have allegedly harassed women students. The faculty members are appointed as wardens which makes space for biases, and the slightest of misdemeanor or non-conformity to rules in the hostel is reflected in the classroom interactions. Students have specifically pointed out the behaviour of the women’s hostel warden, Dr Balwinder Kaur. The warden, meanwhile, had stated that owing to allegations raised by the female students, she has resigned from her post and is waiting for administration’s approval.
Students have also complained about being policed for their dressing sense and conduct, as reported by Live Law.
Students in HNLU have also addressed, in the protests, the inaction of the administration and the ex-Vice Chancellor on complaints filed by students against faculty members.
“In July, a female student complained of sexual harassment. She alleged that a faculty member sexually harassed her. However, Mr Singh brushed the incident aside and didn’t look into such a serious matter”, Swati Bhargava, Vice-President of the student body, told Youth Ki Awaaz recounting the incident.
Students across the country expect the college to provide a safe environment for female students. Brushing aside such complaints only reflects on how these educational institutions treat victims of sexual harassment.
Students have also raised the problem of corruption among the administrative staff. The Chhattisgarh government funds HNLU. The students regularly go outside the city for academic conferences and moot courts and are eligible for reimbursement as per the university guidelines. However, there have been multiple cases of non-payment of compensations.
“When we approached the administration regarding the payments, we were told that the state government did not release funds. However, upon talking to the required authorities at the state level, we were informed that the funds were released long ago. The amount was around Rs. 60 lakhs. We have no idea what happened to that amount,” said Swati Bhargav.
The HNLU administration told the students that they would cover the cost of international conferences only. Students regularly attend national and international meets; the cost of such academic conferences is often very high. Not every student attending the university can afford to pay for them out of their pockets.
Point no. 8 in the charter of demands issued by the HNLU students states, “It is requested that the students are entitled to and hence should be allowed representation in the Academic and Executive Council through the SBA. Hence, the provisions of the HNLU Act, under section 15(3), shall be amended in the light of Provision 7 of UGC Entitlement guidelines and such meetings be convened during semester breaks.”
Another major demand of the students is the relaxation of curfew timings that is 10:30 pm for both boys and girls; they are also demanding a library that is open 24 hours. Students state that due to demands of the course, they often require access to the library at odd hours. Students have cited the occurrence of instances wherein working on a group project becomes extremely problematic due to the library and hostel timings.
They have also cited instances where group work was, because of the curfew timings, conducted through conference calls. Point of the demand charter addresses the same.
Another important demand is the national integration of all NLUs under one governing body. There is a committee that is formed before the entrance exam. However, it is dissolved every year. In practice, NLUs function under the state government, which results in the inconsistent decision making across the country. The protest calls for setting up of a committee under which all NLUs will collectively function.
There has also been a massive uproar on social media, where people have shown support for the protest. Politicians, to lawyers, to students, all have shown support and promised solidarity with the students of HNLU and the war they’re waging against the administration. Students are using the hashtag #HNLUKiAzaadi to voice their dissent and call for support from all platforms on social media.
Shashi Tharoor took to Twitter questioning the authorities’ steps to resolve this.
Law students on strike in Raipur. Why aren’t the authorities stepping in to resolve this? https://t.co/4IvMP5jRjw
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) September 2, 2018
Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association, and Delhi HC lawyer Gautam Bhatia also lent his support to the students protesting at HNLU.
Hundreds of students of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur are demanding freedom from curfew timing, discriminatory rules against women and democratic functioning of the University!
As someone who grew up in Bhilai, next to Raipur, I'm thrilled at your protest HNLU! pic.twitter.com/ySHtZHEZbE
— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) September 2, 2018
Extending full solidarity to the protesting students at HNLU.
— Gautam Bhatia (@gautambhatia88) September 2, 2018
Avni Bansal, a SC advocate, in her tweet asserted that HNLU administration has failed to address the grievances of the students.
What's happening in Hnlu reeks of maladministration, a lack of intention to address the long range & systemic issues. Charges of sexual Harassment against faculty members, arbitraty & discriminatory hostel+ library timings, all this in a National Law School!#HNLUKiAzaadi pic.twitter.com/gEQaspOnBN
— Avani Bansal (@bansalavani) September 2, 2018
“HNLU Students are shaping the landscape of student protest and resistance in Chhattisgarh. Power to these students — you have my endless support and admiration”, tweeted Bhupesh Baghel who is the President of Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee.
युवा एवं छात्र शक्ति अब जाग रही है, अपने अधिकारों की लड़ाई खुद लड़ रही है।
हिदायतुल्लाह नेशनल लॉ यूनिवर्सिटी के छात्र अपनी मांगों के लेकर पिछले 150 घंटों से आंदोलनरत हैं।
संघर्ष के इन सिपाहियों को मेरा क्रांतिकारी सलाम।
— Bhupesh Baghel (@Bhupesh_Baghel) September 3, 2018
TS Singh Deo, Leader of Opposition and Leader of Congress Legislative Party Chhattisgarh, also came out in support of the students and encouraged them to ‘keep fighting for their rights’.
The nation stands in solidarity with HNLU Students & their fight against oppression. Now that our young guns have taken up the onus of challenging incumbent fascism,we all need to be the wind beneath their wings & ensure that these young crusaders emerge victorious!#HNLUkiAzaadi
— TS Singh Deo (@TS_SinghDeo) September 3, 2018
National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) also supported HNLU through its statement. SavitriBai Intersectional Study Circle, NALSAR showed its support issuing a statement in solidarity, too.
NSUI stands in solidarity with the students of HNLU, Chattisgarh pic.twitter.com/gFM1cjNCvu
— NSUI (@nsui) September 3, 2018
Gurmehar Kaur, who is a peace activist also extended support through a tweet.
More power to the students of #HNLU demanding azaadi from ridiculous curfew timings
The female students are protesting to be able able access space after 10:30. What started as a all female protest was joined by male students and has now turned into a movement. ?? pic.twitter.com/Fkx2henqAm
— Gurmehar Kaur (@mehartweets) September 3, 2018
Prakash Kumar, a student of HNLU, in a long thread on Twitter, voiced his concerns, too. “#HNLU protest for #HNLUkiazaadi and #makehnlugreatagain enters the 6th day with the students still comtinuing with their peaceful protest against gender discriminatory, opaque and freedom-curbing rules of the university. Students are well within their fundamental rights but the pains suffered by them during this five days with untimely food, water, shelter in rain and sun is certainly an example of the violation of their fundamental right. Still, no clear written assurance has been given by the authorities regarding the demands listed. The only assurance given by them is that a peaceful protest is our democratic right and we can continue with that and in formal or informal meetings, these types of persons say that they are our parents and guardians. Despite being covered by almost all leading newspapers, legal sites, statements of solidarity from other law universities and student unions and coverage on some news channels, the authorities are, in simple words, not concerned at all regarding students. This is a clear example of harassment of our patience and inciting us to resort to violent methods but they have clearly forgotten the power of students from their own students life to the history. We will ensure that our protest goes in the right direction and the genuine demands are fulfilled. Leaving hope from the ruling party in state as well as centre, I tag here the people from the opposition with a hope that DISSENT will not get away from democracy. @INCIndia @RahulGandhi @IYC @ShashiTharoor @HNLUSBA @PinjraTodHnlu . Feeling hopeful with 900 others.”
Most of the above demands are reasonable and are important for the working of any functional university space. It is important to note that the administration of a top-ranking law university has systematically ignored these basic demands.
The students are in their second week of protest and are refusing to back down. The students have hope in the new interim Vice-Chancellor; however, he has made only verbal promises, and there is no guarantee that these demands will be fulfilled.
Encouragingly, students have gotten their first demand fulfilled: the library and curfew timings have been extended till 3 am.
Students of other National Law Universities- NALSAR, NLSIU, NUJS, NLUD, NLUJ and NLIU- have published a statement showing solidarity with HNLU and vouching for support for the courageous step taken by the student fraternity. While the best national universities have shown support, it’s time for even private universities to come out in support of HNLU, condemning the arbitrariness prevalent in almost all law schools across the country.