Once admitted, Hidayatullah National Law University students walk into the hallowed halls of the university expecting five exciting, intellectually stimulating years of learning law. However, what they get instead is a hostile administration, substandard faculty and discriminatory hostel rules. Things weren’t always so bad. When HNLU was first established in 2008, it started strong with a list of faculty members who were revered and read across the nation. The university had a strong student body which performed well in academics, moot court competitions, scholarships and placements. So what changed in the last ten years? What precipitated this steep decline in standards? One Sukhpal Singh was instituted as the university’s vice chancellor in 2011.
Students’ interests began to be subverted as the administration’s primary interest became filling their own pockets. Key administrative positions all went to regime loyalists and a corrupt, oppressive management started to stifle all aspects of students’ lives at this residential university. Women experienced the worst of the changes. The hostel wardens, who are also faculty, threatened girls with disciplinary action as per their whims and fancies. They harassed female students over what they chose to wear, where they went and who they hung out with.
As if was not enough, girls were also subjected to the sexism of faculty members on a daily basis. At one point, one professor remarked, “Girls should look beautiful before coming to class, so that my boys can come to class.” But the administration left no space for students to voice their complaints or protest the violation of their rights.
However, things took a drastic turn on August 27, 2018, when the Chhattisgarh high court ordered Singh’s removal as vice chancellor, ruling the extension of his tenure illegal. This announcement sparked off protests at the girls’ hostel, whose students were already on the verge of protesting the official 10:30 pm curfew.
The girls sat outside the hostel post curfew hour, and were soon joined by residents of the boys hostel as well. What began as an agitation by the girls, turned into a full fledged protest by the entire student community. The student bar association framed a detailed statement with a list of 14 demands, including the removal of corrupt officials and sexual predators from key administrative positions, adequate student representation in the university’s primary decision-making body, the executive council and the appointment of a review commission to update the conflicting and arbitrary rules introduced by this administration.
The students will not stop protesting until the administration gives them written assurance for their demands. When the protest first started, the faculty falsely labelled it a ‘lynching mob’ and threatened to deploy force against a bunch of young law students who were peacefully exercising their right to dissent. The registrar even lied to the protestors, telling them the vice chancellor had explicitly rejected one of the key demands, when in fact, the chancellor himself later refuted this claim.
Amidst these lies, corruption, sexism and discrimination, HLNU’s students are fighting on, and as the protest finishes its 112th hour, HNLU still awaits – in apprehension and in hope – the freedom every student has always dreamt of.
Naini Swami is a student at Hidayatullah National Law University.