Protest About Unhygienic Food at RGNUL Sparks Campus-Wide Rebellion

Today, March 18, marks the fourth day of protest at Rajiv Gandhi National University (RGNUL), Patiala against alleged sexism on campus and the administration’s coercive practices to stifle the fundamental rights of students.

The demonstration started five days ago when some students in the boys’ mess started banging steel plates together to register their protest against the unhygienic food being served.

Shortly after, the administration – instead of inspecting the quality of food being served – issued a suspension order against the six of them, accusing them of indulging in “hooliganism and indiscipline”.

During the interrogation, a faculty member allegedly confiscated the phone of a student and verbally abused him after he complained of his privacy being violated. According to a third-year law student, a faculty member intimidated him by saying: “Don’t try to teach me privacy laws. We know better than you.”

Blatant sexism

Later that evening, scores of students gathered outside the university guest house to not only protest against the incident but also demand the immediate suspension of administrative officer S.P. Singh for repeatedly making sexist remarks against female students.

“The administrative officer has humiliated female students several times in front of other teachers with statements like “ye gender equality ka chashma utaaro”, “I identify you as girls before students” and so on. However, the administration has taken no action whatsoever against him thus far,” said a final year female student on condition of anonymity.

“We have compiled a report detailing instances of female students being harassed by Singh to send it to the National Commission of Women to further press our demands,” she added.

At the protest site, female students held up posters saying “Sexism se Azaadi” to seek the removal of discriminatory hostel rules against them on campus.

According to the Tribune, a panel of judges from the Punjab and Haryana high court recommended that the university revoke the suspension of the students who protested against unhygienic food being served in the mess.

Coercive action

Amidst all this, students said the vice chancellor still hasn’t reached out to them to hear their grievances.

Instead, the administration has reportedly deployed rapid action force personnel.

Rapid action force inside the RGNUL campus. Image provided by a third year law student.

They have also asked the protestors to call off the demonstration as a pre-condition to revoking the suspension orders. They’ve reportedly done so without giving any written assurances.

Bar & Bench on Twitter also reported that police convoys entered the campus today, in what it termed a “grim situation.”

The vice chancellor reportedly tried to disperse the protest by levelling allegations against the protestors for pelting stones at his house. “We have been peacefully protesting for the past four days and haven’t done anything of that sort. Those are just false and baseless allegations,” said a third-year law student.

Students also allege that faculty members have been consistently threatening them by saying, “I will see you all during the VIVA and practical examination.”

Furthermore, the day when the agitation began, the administration sent emails to parents asking them to force their children to “return to classes immediately”.

The administration has also prohibited the media from entering the campus. “Authorities don’t want to make this issue public. [The] vice chancellor is more concerned about his image rather than issues relating to students,” said a third-year B.A. LLB student.

Students also informed that on March 19 – day five of the protest – the university removed the pages from newspapers containing the RGNUL protest reports.

Pages 6, 7, 8 and 9 torn out from the Amar Ujala newspaper. Image provided by RGNUL student.

Students boycott exams

Unfazed by the administration’s coercive tactics, students from first year to fourth year decided to unanimously boycott the mid-term exams scheduled to be held on March 18.

However, the final year students – who need to pass the exam to apply for higher degrees – will be writing the papers wearing black outfits to show solidarity with the ongoing protest.

“Our juniors asked us to appear for the exam because they didn’t want us to put our careers at stake. But we will be joining the protest every evening for an hour to support them,” said a final year student.

This is not the first time that the students have protested against the administration.

Last year, final year students had collectively voiced their opposition against arbitrary project guidelines imposed on them in an appeal to revoke it. However, the authorities ignored their demands and implemented the order.

Solidarity statements 

While the administration has turned a blind eye to the ongoing protest, student bodies across the country have extended their support to RGNUL students. The statements also brought to light stringent administrative rules plaguing other law universities in the country.

RGNUL’s alumni association released a lengthy note addressing the grievances of the students and extended their unequivocal support to the protest. In lieu of the same, they also called off their first ever alumni meet on campus.

The Mumbai National Law University, in their solidarity statement, demanded to be granted the status of ‘Institute of National Importance’ to national law universities “to ensure better handling and centralisation of administration across NLUs.”

Aastha Khanna, joint secretary of the student union at Delhi University’s law faculty stated, “Students in most of the law schools are burdened with the responsibility to initiate basic reforms and maintain a constant vigil over administrative decisions.”

Similarly, NLU Bhopal, MNLU Aurangabad, HNLU and other law universities also extended their support.

After multiple infructuous meetings with the vice-chancellor – who has been consistently saying “nothing is in my hand” – the protest continues on campus.