After Week-Long Protest, VC Accepts HNLU Students’ Primary Demand

Raipur: HNLU has witnessed a series of historic events this past week, ever since the Chhattisgarh high court judgement of August 27, 2018 which removed the university’s vice chancellor from his position.

The judgement inspired students to take on other issues including a 10:30 pm hostel curfew, rampant sexism on campus and maladministration by other university authorities. That same night, the university campus came alive with spirited students who started discussing ideas and ways in which they could get the administration to agree to their demands.

Over the following week, they organised themselves into different committees and worked long nights, sometimes even to the point of exhaustion. People dozing on their laptops or on a pile of sheets became a common sight in the verandahs of the academic block. While the turmoil of the protest obviously created tensions, the overall atmosphere was one of relentless optimism.

Our initial statement of demands received no response, as the administration claimed there was no executive head empowered to deal with our demands. Even after Ravi Shankar Sharma (the principal secretary of the Law and Legislative Department of Chhattisgarh) was appointed interim VC on August 29, we received no written assurance on our key demand – extending library and hostel curfew timings. Although Sharma spoke favourably of fulfilling most student demands, we continued our protest.

After a week of protest, our collective effort has finally yielded results. During a meeting with the law minister of Chhattisgarh and HNLU’s student bar association representatives, the VC released an official statement, assenting in writing, to extending library and hostel curfews till 3 am.

A student committee, created to record students’ complaints of sexual harassment and abuse of power has also put together a report on its findings. This report contains responses from numerous students which were recorded through a Google survey circulated by the committee. The VC has also approved the formation of a formal inquiry committee by September 7 to look into these grave complaints.

Regarding the extended curfew, the VC has ordered that a register be kept in each hostel, with another set in the library, so each student can record their exit and entry from hostel to library and back. The VC has verbally promised that, if feasible, this arrangement will run 24/7, beginning September 24.

However, the contentious point in the official order of the VC is that it does not allow students to go anywhere else other than the library during the extended hostel curfew. This freedom to step out of the hostel does not permit students to access university resources other than the library. One of the major corollaries to our demand for removing the curfew was the lack of access to food after 10:30 pm. Neither the official order nor the VC’s informal communication has indicated that this demand will be accepted.

For women, asking for an extended curfew went much farther than library access. It was based in the fundamental expectation that the university can’t limit their basic righst, like choosing where they want to be and at what hour. The VC’s order does not offer women any assurance on this issue.

Raising concerns over the implications of the VC’s order, a final year student asked, “This technically means that the wardens can still continue to trouble us?” Another fourth-year student added, “What happens if I leave my hostel at a certain time but reach the library ten minutes later, would that amount to flouting curfew rules?”

No clarifications on the manner in which the order is to implemented have yet been received from the VC. The student bar association has asked the students to remain patient till the necessary clarifications are made by the VC.

The students, who were celebrating after today’s meeting between the VC, law minister and student representatives, are now trying to understand the conditions attached to their new freedom.

However, we still celebrate this first victory, which we hope holds equal relevance for students across India. These are important steps and students in other universities, working towards the same goals, are helping to bring about a bigger revolution. It’s time to challenge and change societal ideas about students’, especially women’s, autonomy.

Naini Swami is a student at Hidayatullah National Law University. 

Featured image credit: Naini Swami