Hundreds of women students of the Hidayatullah National Law University in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, have been staging a protest for eight days now over a host of issues. These include demanding abolition of hostel ‘in timings’ for women students, removal of hostel wardens, an end to financial irregularities, red tapism, UGC mandates, fund cuts to the university, etc.
REASONS FOR PROTEST
- Women students claim appalling cases of moral policing and curfew timings.
- Cases of sexual harassment allegedly hushed up in the university. Girls fear repercussions on their academic career.
- Illegal extension of tenure of the former VC, whose extension was cancelled by the Chattisgarh HC.
- Women students want independent warden.
WOMEN’S HOSTEL AND MORAL POLICING
The protest kicked off on 23 August in the women’s hostel against increasing threats of show cause notices by the warden in an alleged attempt to impose absolute control over the mobility of women students. “The girls’ hostel warden was morally policing us, targeting women and telling them not to wear certain clothes in the campus. After this, she started banging on people’s doors and asking them to sign the leave register whenever they travel to their home or somewhere else. She would also cross check on us by knocking at 1 am in the night. All this felt like we are under some kind of surveillance,” Saumya Raizada, fifth year student at HNLU, told SheThePeople.TV
“Another thing is that the campus is situated 30km away from the city so if we are coming by trains which arrive late at night and even if we tell them in advance about the timing, they won’t open the gates for us while for the boys, there is no such rules,” she added.
On 27th August, Chhattisgarh High Court ordered immediate termination of the extension of tenure of its Vice-Chancellor Dr. Sukhpal Singh, calling it an illegal appointment. The students are now sitting in silent protest in the campus with a list of grievances against the administration. They are opposing reinstatement of the VC, inequality of rules in girls and boys hostel and the faculty’s alleged callous behaviour.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT ALLEGATIONS
HNLU’s Student Bar Association president, Snehal Ranjan, said, “During the course of our protest, we realized that there are several complaints of sexual harassment which the girls have not raised because of the fear of the previous VC. When we got to know about it, we started collating complaints of girls and we have received complaints from our alumnae as well. We will submit the list to the interim VC, Ravishankar Sharma, by tomorrow morning and demand that all the people from the management accused of sexual harassment complaints should be suspended from their additional responsibilities or temporarily suspended from the university so that inquiry can begin against them. If found guilty, they should be removed from the university.”
One of the students said that over 50 cases of sexual abuse have come forward against one of the persons in the management. “The accused person had to deactivate his Facebook account because his messages to girls to come on chats with him became public. He would say dirty things to girls and pester them to stay with him in his office etc. He has done this to a lot of girls.”
Both Raizada and Ranjan told us that the college had formed Internal Complaints Committee only last year. Raizada said that the ICC only took one case of sexual harassment into cognizance but closed that too for lack of evidence.
The Student Bar Association has demanded that the Chancellor and the interim VC of the university constitute an independent Internal Complaints Committee which is free of members close to the former VC and the current regime. This is the reason why girls couldn’t complain to the ICC, fearing repercussions.
“There are a plethora of issues in our university and we don’t have proper examination academic disciplinary rules. We only have certain notifications and they are passed and withdrawn going by the whims and fancies of the administration,” said Ranjan.
The association has drafted a 14-pointer charter of demands and has had two meetings with Sharma. While he acknowledged the demands, he hasn’t said anything about instating them. The students are worried that the VC’s approval to the demands will wither away after the protest is withdrawn.
Over 50 cases of sexual abuse have come forward against one of the persons in the management. “He would say dirty things to girls and pester them to stay with him in his office etc. He has done this to a lot of girls.”
We also spoke to warden and Assistant Professor (Law) Balwinder Kaur, who has claimed to have resigned from her position as a warden. She said that since the students wanted her to resign, she has filed her papers, but the administration is yet to approve it.
On the students’ demand, she said, “They have some demands and all the faculty members have signed on their demands. We all are in solidarity and it is now with the acting VC. We agree with some of the demands of the girls like they want an independent warden for the hostel.”
She disagreed with the allegations of discriminatory rules for girls’ hostel in comparison to boy’s hostel and said that curfew timings are equal for both hostels.
HNLU has joined a long list of universities and colleges like Jamia University, Hindu College of DU, BHU, Jadhavpur University, etc. where students –particularly women– are fighting for their rights and trying to make the administrations understand the meaning of consent. They are striving to make college administration understand that moral policing, curfew timings and dogmatic behaviour will no longer trap them and stunt their growth.