The usual calm prevailing at Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU) campus has died down since August 29, when the students of one of India's premier law schools decided to raise their voice against the administration over cases of alleged sexual harassment, imposition of curfew hours and alleged corruption.
Situated 30 km away from Chhattisgarh's capital Raipur, HNLU stands sixth in the series of national law universities, which were established to produce exceptional lawyers for the nation. But, the budding advocates have been forced to take up another battle to fight.
Following the order of the Chhattisgarh High Court terming the extension of former Vice-Chancellor Sukhpal Singh's tenure as illegal and wrong, the students allege that campus life has only worsened in recent years under his stewardship. The campus also appears to have emerged as a safe haven for teachers accused of sexual harassment, they allege.
Talking to NewsClick, the students said their protests began when they realised that the VC was planning to appeal the court order. A final year B. A. LLB student, who requested anonymity, said, "The wardens, who are also on different faculty positions, have been passing sexist slurs against girl students. We are adults, why should any teacher tell us what to wear." The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the number of complaints that were received after one of the students shared a Google document with other students of the university asking them to narrate their stories.
"We have so far received 77 complaints of sexual harassment and the number is only going to increase as the alumni is complaining of similar harassment during their time," the student said, adding that such complaints have consistently been buried as the members of gender sensitisation committee have been revealing victim names to the accused. In turn, the victims were humiliated publicly and in private, by the accused teachers."
"How would you feel if you are humiliated publicly and face your harassers everyday? Why would a girl turn up in class facing such trauma? This will have long term impact on her life which may also ruin her academics," the student said.
Another student, who also wished to remain anonymous, said the campus had literally been turned into a prison where a student could not leave the hostel after 10:30 p.m. "HNLU is one of the few national law universities established across the country. If students of another university are accessing the library and other services 24 hours a day, why should we be denied such facilities? The worst part is the administration calling parents and indulging in character assassination of girls who fail to enter the hostel even one minute late,” the student said.
The situation has equally affected male students. "Law is a research-intensive subject. Libraries and other departments are far from the main campus. The students who cannot afford laptops are entirely dependent on computers installed in the library and labs. In such a situation, curfew hours prove to be the biggest hindrance in making education accessible to poor students", he said.
Students Denied Funds
The student also alleged that the structure of the university had been designed in such a manner that it can only harbour corruption. "The university has been denying funds to students for Moot Court competitions for the past one and a half years citing no grants from the government. When one of the students filed an RTI application with the Chhattisgarh government, we were informed that the funds had already been released. So, the question is where did the money go? When we met the VC, he countered the charges by asking us if we considered him a scamster and threatened us against bringing this out in public.”
"Interestingly, the Examination Controller is also the First Appellate Authority under the RTI Act which means students seeking clarifications regarding financial allocations are threatened with reduction of marks in the final examinations. Thus, their voices are silenced brutally", he alleged.
Sanjay Parate, CPI(M) Secretary in Chhattisgarh, who recently visited the protesting students, said they are up in arms because there has been no redressal of their complaints."Students have been threatened with reduction of marks in the examinations. Their problems must be addressed," he demanded.
Vikram Singh, Secretary, Students’ Federation of India, said the present government's treatment of campuses demonstrates its anti-democratic nature. "You need not go far to observe this. The students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, who have been demanding their just rights, have been handed over show-cause and penalty notices. The message from the Centre is clear: Do not engage in any dialogue with students and crush every opposing voice."
On the rising incidents of sexual harassment at the campuses, Singh said that people have been voicing their complaints since the past three years. “We have been emphasising that the role of Gender Sensitisation Committees are not limited to addressing sexual harassment cases. Their role is to sensitise campuses through workshops and training sessions. It is also the failure of our education system where girls are identified by their sexuality and this must be challenged."