Protests at HNLU enters second week as law students await concrete decision from interim vice-chancellor

Vandana Agrawal | Sep 2, 2018 | 5 min read


Agitation at HNLU Raipur enters second week as students await concrete decision from interim VC

Vandana Agrawal

Raipur: The Chhattisgarh High Court order on August 27 that rendered illegal the extension to tenure of Dr Sukh Pal Singh, vice-chancellor of Hidayatullah National Law University, resulted in the long-perturbed student body coming out in protest at the varsity campus, seeking immediate implementation of the ruling.

The protests that kicked off on that night have now blown into a week-long agitation against various repugnant policies of the administration. The students have put forth a set of 13 demands, including “appointment of an able and competent individual as the new VC” and the right to have free access to every part of the campus for all students at all hours. They have also pushed hashtag #HNLUKiAzaadi to trend on Twitter.

Protests against discrepancy in hostel timings for boys and girls had happened at the HNLU a year ago as well, but the varsity’s empty assurances and inaction over complaints registered so far have pushed students to utilise this agitation to get their pending demands resolved. While the administration has postponed examination dates at the varsity due to the ongoing agitation, the students are planning to sit on a hunger strike starting 5 September if their demands are not met.  

After Singh was removed from office, principal secretary to Chhattisgarh government, department of law, R S Sharma was appointed interim VC on 28 August. Sharma spoke to students last Tuesday and assured to take decision over their demands after talking to all parties concerned. Though the interim VC approved of all of students’ demands, they have decided to continue the agitation until a final verdict is delivered in tangible form.    

Contentious Hostel Curfew  

Hostel curfew which restricts students to return to halls of residence by 10.30pm has been the most contentious of issues apart from lack of transparency in administrative decisions. Students are contesting that the ‘arbitrary’ timing was imposed without following guidelines as defined under the HNLU, Chhattisgarh, Act 2003. They are of the view that students should be allowed access to entire campus at all hours without any discrepancies or exceptions.

In a demand letter put together by the SBA, HNLU, students state the fact that several students in the campus identify with different genders and therefore, reside in different halls of residence. Imposing such rules hinders the academic, as well as extra-curricular activities that students wish to undertake, such as moot court competitions, collaborative research papers, access to library and other resources.

While on one hand, the students cannot go out after 10.30 pm, the University does not provide them with any source of food between 10:30 pm and 7:30 am. Those studying or working beyond the deadline have to find alternative options to satiate their hunger or live with the irrational rule. Even getting deliveries from eateries located outside the campus is not allowed post 10.30 pm, students say. They also want the closing hour of the library to be extended from 10.00 pm to 3.00 am in order to best utilise the resources provided.

“This is not only about the time of arrival and departure in the hostel. We want to be able to use the campus library till late at night,” says Swati Bhargava, vice-president of the SBA.  

Apart from these, another critical demand is that the wardens at the halls of residence be individuals independent of academic authority, say the students, adding that they (wardens) shouldn’t be a teacher or in any manner associated, directly, indirectly or incidentally with academic activities or programs.

Students claim there have been multiple occasions wherein wardens when reprimanding students for alleged violations of rules have also threatened dire academic consequences such as a cut in examination marks and attendance. Appointment of a permanent registrar according to the rules laid down for the same is also included in the students’ demands.

SBA president Snehal Ranjan Shukla said, “The discussion led to positive assurance, but our protests will continue till our demands are accepted.”

Gathering support on social media

The weeklong agitation by the HNLU student community has gathered support from various corners of the country with people posting messages of solidarity on social media.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) and CPI politburo member, expressed her support through Twitter. “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,” Krishnan wrote.

Denying any threat from varsity authorities regarding police action against protesting students, Achyut Tiwari, a 3rd year student at HNLU who is also the public relation officer of the Student Bar Association (SBA), says the interim VC has only warned them not to be undisciplined, and that they have assured him of keeping the demonstration peaceful.

Geeta Kumari, chairperson of the JNU Students Union, voiced her support on Facebook: “Caretaker JNUSU stands in solidarity with the ongoing students’ movement going on at HNLU Raipur... Students are also demanding to end discriminatory curfew timings in hostels for girls and make some moderation in wardens’ appointment to end personal targeting of individual students. We have seen administrations across universities are closing down democratic dialogue with the students’ communities and imposing unilateral academic and infrastructural decisions on students. On behalf of JNUSU (Caretaker), we extend our revolutionary greetings to the struggling students of HNLU, Raipur.”

HNLU Registrar Ayan Hazra said the interim VC, R S Sharma, was out of state, but he had “already discussed the issues with the students and the university management”.

“The students are stuck on their movement. A final decision can be taken only after the interim VC returns,” Hazra said.

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