As students at Hidayatullah National Law University neared the end of their first day of hunger strike, their embattled vice chancellor, Dr Sukhpal Singh agreed to step down.
HNLU’s students first started protesting in late August, demanding an extension in their curfew timings. Just a couple of weeks after they won concessions, they returned to protesting, this time demanding the resignation of their newly re-instated VC, alleging corruption, maladministration and the mishandling of sexual harassment cases on campus.
The first round of protests was sparked by a Chhattisgarh high court judgment which ruled Singh’s extended term illegal and ordered his immediate removal. His removal inspired students to demand changes in the way HNLU was run – their primary demand being an extension of the girls’ hostel’s curfew hours and an extension in the library’s hours as well.
However, their joy was shortlived. After the interim vice chancellor, R.S. Sharma had agreed to their wishes, the Supreme Court issued a stay order against the high court judgment – and Singh was reinstated as HNLU’s VC again.
The previously granted concessions were stalled on the pretext of a lack of staff and students became suspicious of the administration’s financial dealings after the administration’s meetings’ minutes were made public.
After Singh failed to address students’ concerns at a student body meeting, they decided to go on hunger strike, starting October 1 to demand his resignation, saying they had no confidence in his ability to manage HNLU or cater to their interests.
In preparation for the hunger strike, the student bar association tweeted an open letter asking people around the country to support their struggle – and received positive responses from across the country.
— Student Bar Association, HNLU (@HNLUSBA) September 30, 2018
Acclaimed lawyer, Karuna Nundy tweeted, calling the current state of affairs at HNLU, a “travesty”.
Travesty unfolding at #HNLU. Law prof asks student to dance for him in class, other students complain of sexual harassment by same prof and….VC says will act if he does it again. Financial, otr irregularities also alleged. Law students now going on #HNLUHungerStrike https://t.co/aI6SguO8wi
— Karuna Nundy (@karunanundy) September 30, 2018
Author of Small Acts of Freedom, Gurmehar Kaur tweeted her solidarity with the students.
The last few years in India have been the darkest we have seen in a long time but these are also years we saw some of the most powerful student voices emerge. The call for azaadi from oppressive regimes has never been louder. #HNLUkiAazaadi In solidarity ✊? throw the VC out!!
— Gurmehar Kaur (@mehartweets) September 30, 2018
The National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) and N. Sai Balaji, Jawaharlal Nehru University’s newly elected student union president also offered their support.
HNLU students have started their indefinite Hunger strike against HNLU VC who is accused of shielding sexual harassment accused professors, corruption & maladministration! More power to students! JNUSU stands by the fight for justice! Students Unity Long Live!#HNLUHungerStrike pic.twitter.com/6cOeyTjNbz
— N Sai Balaji (@nsaibalaji) October 1, 2018
NSUI stands in solidarity with the students of HNLU, Chattisgarh pic.twitter.com/gFM1cjNCvu
— NSUI (@nsui) September 3, 2018
Members of the Congress in Chhattisgarh also took on the issue, using it to demand action or a response from the state government.
Instead of doling out threats to students, VC should aim to resolve the matter by holding a dialogue with them! @drramansingh Govt on its part should not sit like a bystander and ensure that the crises is resolved rather than let it deteriorate! #HNLU https://t.co/qIUDw7d3bR
— TS Singh Deo (@TS_SinghDeo) October 1, 2018
900 HNLU students boycott Raman Singh’s SKY phone distribution scheme today. They don’t want phones. They want basic facilities and rights. Why dont you do a vikas yatra in HNLU @bjp @shrishikhar @INCIndia @RahulGandhi @IYCChhattisgarh
— Arun Vora (@ArunVoraMLA) September 30, 2018
At first, the VC’s only reaction was threatening to suspend classes until the protesters called off their hunger strike. He issued an official statement saying, “If the students do not call off the protest by the said date, the university shall be compelled to take appropriate course of action, including closure of the university to restore normalcy.”
Saying that the protests had damaged HNLU’s reputation, hehad added, “In these circumstances the university appeals to all the students to call off the protest immediately and resume their classes on Monday,” he added.
However, Monday arrived and students, as promised, started their hunger strike. By the end of the day, the VC had resigned from his post and students say the university will be forming a special commission to investigate claims of corruption that emerged during these protests.