SPIRIT, STRENGTH, AND SOLIDARITY: THE INSIDE STORY OF RGNUL PROTESTS
By Satvik Mishra
What started as a mere expression of resentment towards the poor quality of food provided in the boy’s hostel mess turned out to be a protest that the university never saw and the authority never expected. 19th of March,2019 would be no less than 15th of August for all the people currently at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law and for generations that’ll come. Now, starting from where it all started too when all of it came to an end, let me give you an insight of the things and happening that’ll be written in the history of this college.
The Mess Protest :
For all those who think that the issue started on the intervening night of 15th – 16th March, let me disappoint you. The core of the protest was when male students numbering over a hundred across batches reached the hostel mess on the night of 13th March and banged steel plates on benches in synchronization to make our concern visible to the authorities, the authorities that have been denying various oral and written complaints throughout the course of time. The banging of plates was followed by a peaceful talk with the Mess manager along with the Warden which hasn’t been mentioned at any of the places.
What followed was a coercive interrogation of one of the students on the next day, his phone pulled out and forcefully opened, private messages read, few more students pointed out, ultimately leading to the suspension of 6 students, without a proper hearing and in the absence of the Vice-Chancellor.
“We want our boys back.” And Pinjra Tod :
The start was peaceful and silent. The process was peaceful and vocal. The ‘protest’ started when few students sat silently on the footpaths in front of the University guest house, with their cellphone flashes on, trying to get the attention of the university authorities that were present inside the guest house, attending a few guests. When that failed, the gathered students thought of staying over that night on the footpaths and while the protest slowly started turning vocal with chants like “we want our boys back” filling the air, something unexpected happened which turned the course of the protest.
Indeed, it was the Pinjra Tod that gave the protest the shape it acquired in due course of time. At night at around 12 am, later after the scheduled in-time for girls, many girls requested the warden to reopen the hostel gates so that girls could join the protest and support the boys who were protesting all alone in the dark of the night. When denied the same, and having been oppressed with regards to different in-times for both the genders and other sexist practices, the girls broke out by sheer force and joined the boys protesting near the guest house. While the protest started with the demand of bringing back the suspended boys, the girls brought a demand which turned out to be a major demand for the protest, the suspension of the Administrative Officer.
Sleepover and the meeting with the Administration :
Wrongly measuring the grit of the students, the administration thought the students would disperse as the night got darker. The students, on the other hand, decided to see the morning sun not from their hostel room but from the road in front of the guest house. Seeing no response from the authority at night, the students decided to sleep on the road. Mattresses were brought from the hostel along with other essentials to stay the first of the many nights to follow.
The next day brought new hope. Students were told that few judges from the High Court would be addressing our concern. And indeed, it happened. Honorable Justice Mahesh Grover, along with the administration including the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar. The demands were simple-
• Revocation of the suspension order issued on 15th March 2019
• A formal inquiry into the conduct of the Administrative Officer of the University.
• The formalization of the Student Body of RGNUL
• “Thorough review/repeal of discriminatory practices enfranchised by the University. In particular, the discriminatory treatment meted out to female students when it comes to in-times, application for leave, etc. has been highlighted.” To the student's surprise, while the Vice Chancellor denied allegations regarding sexist practices of the college or written complaint regarding mess food, he agreed to look after other issues. While the students were thinking to call off the protest the very second day, the university administration denied giving up anything in writing. Thus, it ignited a suspicion of false promises and so, the students decided to go on
with the protest.The next day was a normal protest day. Students chanting slogans, expressing their demands to meet a higher authority while the administrations still stuck on not giving anything in writing. The VC promised to meet on the next day while the students continued with the march, chanting slogans in front of the VC’s residence.
VC and the Alumni :
There was a glimmer of hope again the next day. The Alumni came to address the concern of the students. All the issues were explained in depth by the students to the Alumni. Things were given in writing which was to be circulated to the Administration. In the midst of it, the Vice Chancellor addressed the students. Expecting a solution, the already tired students, protesting in the heat of the sun and sleeping under the moonlight in cold, gathered at the Auditorium stairs. What unfolded was a careless Vice Chancellor advising students to keep drinking water while protesting to keep themselves hydrated. Such a blatant ignorance of issues irritated students who decided to boycott the mid-semester exams which were scheduled to start that very day.
Seeing neither a proper response from the administration nor a fruitful outcome from the meeting between the VC and the alumni that had been going on since evening, the students decided to march towards the VC’s residence and chant slogan. Following this, the alumni came out from the meeting, giving lame reasons that the administration was about to sign the demands, something which hadn’t been done for the last three days, but it decided not to after listening to the slogans by the students. Seeing no further point in any meetings whatsoever, the students decided to call out for the chancellor himself, as the Vice-Chancellor shrugged his authority, telling the students that the matter was now with the Chief Justice.
The Advocate General – Man who brought the deadlock to an end :
The students were tired to the core. Many gave up the protest themselves while health didn’t allow many others. Shouting or even staying in the heat was tough while sleeping out in cold was tougher. But there was hope that things will change for good and a question, who’ll break first – the students or the administration.
As the Chief Justice was busy with work, he appointed the Advocate General of Punjab, Mr. Atul Nanda to address the student’s concern. A humorous man with an intellectual and serious
mindset, he listened to all the concerns, one by one, giving attention to all the details. Then, he asked the students to elect five representatives among them, who will be witnesses as well as participants in the discussion with the authority.Five students were elected, who went inside the Academic Block along with the AG and at around 7 pm, it was announced that all the demands, with a few modifications, were accepted and given in writing. The accepted demands were –
• The suspension of the six students is revoked unconditionally
• An independent probe will be conducted into the conduct of Administrative Officer SP Singh by a judicial officer nominated by the University Chancellor. SP Singh will be sent on compulsory leave immediately until the conclusion of the inquiry. The inquiry is to be concluded within three months. SP Singh will not be allowed access to the University premises in the meanwhile.
• The students have been permitted to constitute a representative general body. The agreement also outlines the setting up of a student interim committee to go about constituting RGNUL’s first such student representative body.
• Uniform curfews have been set for both female and male students. The in-campus curfew has been set at 8 pm and the in-hostel time for both girls and boys has been set at 12 am.
Thus, the long drawn process which tested students to the limit and made the authority bow down to its knees came to an end. “The popular protest also drew in support from various student bodies across law schools and universities, including the NLU consortium and RGNUL alumni.”