On August 27, after the Chhattisgarh high court declared the extension of the vice chancellor’s term to be illegal, the university’s women students grabbed this opportunity to demand their rights – with flashlights in their hands, wearing black, they marched to the main gate, where the media was waiting, and begged them to cover their protest. Soon after, HNLU’s student bar association and the university’s male students joined the protesting students. Since then, protesting students have been sitting near the campus’ main gate, refusing to let up pressure on the administration.
On day one, the administration’s representatives listened to the students for 20 minutes before returning to their rooms, thinking that the students would go back to their hostels post voicing their “impracticable demands,” but a week on they’re still going strong. These were the students’ demands on the first day:
- Removal of campus in-timings for women (Although men are technically subjected to the same curfew, the administration turns a blind eye to male students roaming the campus till 3 am. However, if a female student returns to the hostel at 10:35 pm, the chief warden – not even the titular head – calls up the student’s parents to inform them of her “bad character”)
- The removal of Dr. Balwinder Kaur as the hostel warden of the hostel and the institution of new, independent wardens who don’t double up as teaching staff.
This is not the first time that HNLU students have united against sexism. Last year, a group of brave women started a Facebook page, Pinjra Tod – HNLU Chapter, to share poems and articles urging the university to stand up for them. Instead, the then registrar, who is also infamous for allegations of being a sexual predator, Dr. Ayam Hazra, threatened to charge the students with vandalism.
Also present was Kaur, who was known to call up female students’ parents to give them inaccurate “juicy” details about their daughters’ personal lives, along with threatening female students with show cause notices for their choice of clothing, being five minutes late to the hostel or forgetting to sign the hostel’s attendance sheet.
Under Kaur’s moral policing, female students were targeted for wearing ripped jeans or shorts, associating with “a certain set of men and women” who were “not right” and for “returning late from excursion trips”. An alum recalled Kaur telling her to hold meetings to advise other female students to dress modestly while attending parties and not “piss Balwinder ma’am off”.
Kaur also imposed fines on female students for keeping glass bottles with fairy lights inside them in their rooms, saying “Contraband substance consume hua hoga isme”(You must have consumed some contraband substance from this bottle). She also told a student’s parents that she was in possession of compromising photos of their daughter, but had nothing to produce when asked for evidence.
Another friend recalls an incident when she was telling a junior, the vice president of the student bar association, about the girls’ hostel gym being in a much poorer condition than the boys’ and pushing for better facilities in the girls’ gym. Later, she was called to the faculty warden’s office, where Kaur warned her that such “interaction with juniors” could result in show cause notices and ragging complaints (even though it later emerged that the vice president had made no such allegations.)
What has happened in the past seven days?
- Students occupied different parts of the HNLU campus as a mark of their protest.
- On the first day, they sat outside their hostel gate beyond 10:30 PM to demand full access to their campus, no matter the time of the day.
- Armed with their books, the students sat and studied in front of the library to demand 24-7 access to the library as well.
- They held flash lights and marched through the campus to gather solidarity from their faculty members and teachers. However, the faculty members declared these students a “lynching mob”. (A lynch mob with only mobile phones in their hands and silence and peace as their weapon of destruction.)
- The students have also occupied the ‘lake side stairs’ of the campus, slept in the auditorium, the academic block and prepared for their drama skits and moot court competitions post 10:30 pm in defiance of the curfew timing to demonstrate how the curfew limits their productivity.
What are our primary demands?
- Removal of hostel in-timings and 24-7 access to the library
- Financial transparency: For instance, the cleaning staff is allegedly paid Rs 4,500 a month while on paper they’re allocated a budget of Rs 9,000 a month.
- Strict action on sexual harassment complaints against the registrar-in-charge and other faculty members
- Appointment of a permanent registrar
- Segregation of tenders of the mess, canteen and cafeteria – since the same vendor somehow wins the tender bid every year despite extremely poor-quality food.
- Student representation in the academic and executive council through the student bar association.
What have we achieved so far?
- Nothing apart from verbal assurances that our requests “may be considered”.
Despite this, the solidarity we have received from students of universities across the nation, the legal fraternity and others have kept us strong. We may not be Jawaharlal Nehru University but this protest has just begun and we won’t budge until justice is served.
Saumya Raizada is a student at Hidayatullah National Law University.
Featured image credit: Twitter