How a High Court Judgement Sparked Student Protests at Hidayatullah National Law University

As Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU) students complete one week of protests against the administration – for oppressive and arbitrary rules, restricting female students’ movements on campus and other sexism, it’s worthwhile to reflect on the Chhattisgarh high court judgement that started all of this.

On August 27, the Chhattisgarh High Court declared that the extension of vice chancellor Sukhpal Singh’s tenure was as illegal and ordered his immediate removal from the post. If you want to understand the reasons for this student agitation, it’s important to understand the implications of this judgement.

The first part of the judgement, granting Avinash Samal, the applicant in the case and a political science professor at HNLU, locus standi to refer the appeal, emphasises the importance of vigilance that should be exercised by the judiciary – the guardian of citizens’ rights – the Court sees it as its fundamental responsibility to make an enquiry into any cases of misconduct brought to its light.

To start with, the court upheld the ideal of institutional integrity by granting legal standing to the applicant HNLU professor Avinash Samal, showing us that how a national university is run is important not just for public interest, but public law as well.

Also read: Hidayatullah National Law University’s Students are Rising Up Against Years of Faculty Oppression

At various points in the judgement, the court cites precedents set by the Supreme Court to reinforce the fundamental liberties granted us by the constitution. Notably, the order also cites the application of the principle of “excellence in law” which is included in the HNLU Act.

The court hasn’t just categorically placed the institution on a higher pedestal than the individual, but has also acknowledged the illegal actions of a university’s high official negatively impact the interests of the university’s students.

The court declared HNLU’s reasons for extending Singh’s tenure as void of all logic. Citing an apex court judgement which emphasises the important rule of law in a democratic set-up, the HC’s judgement limits any arbitrary, capricious or whimsical action, lest the university venture into the hazards of a feudal regime.

This judgement provides the strongest factual and legal basis for our struggle. With this judgement, the Chhattisgarh high court has given us, HNLU students, the validation we needed to stand up to years of mistreatment by a power-hungry administration and helped us realise that our complaints are legitimate.

The judgement also calls into question the trustworthiness of the disgraced VC’s other academic deployments. When the chief executive and academic head of a university patently misuses his power, and when the remaining members on his council – barring but one solitary voice – remain silent on his actions, doesn’t their integrity deserve scrutiny as well?

Also read: We, the Students of Hidayatullah National Law University, Are Fighting For Basic Rights

To add to this, HNLU’s campus is rife with allegations of harassment, discrimination and the abuse of power by other university authorities. However, these authorities’ responses to such allegations have been disappointing to say the least. This dismissal prompts a frustrating chain of thought – do they not consider our collective experience of oppression grave enough to warrant this resistance? Or are they shocked to see us rise, despite the humiliation they have subjected students to for years?

Thanks to the court, HNLU students now know that they deserve acknowledgment for being wronged; that ‘equality’ and ‘accountability’ are not just fictional terms, even though their own teachers may think otherwise. These are the touchstones of democracy which we learn to defend when we come to study law, but these are the values that we were too afraid to exercise within the confines of our own institution. No more. We, the students of Hidayatullah National Law University are now ready to face these challenges as we journey towards freedom.

Naini Swami is a student at Hidayatullah National Law University.

Featured image credit: Saumya Raizada is a student of Hidayatullah National Law University