We are Battling Injustice Eerily Like Orwell’s 1984: RGNUL Student
Orwell’s 1984 is a staple read in our educational systems today, yet most educators perhaps miss out on an excellent opportunity to display to students the true meaning of Orwellian institutions.
To understand the latter, perhaps an analysis of the administrations of our higher-education sector, especially of National Law Universities, the proclaimed legal islands of excellence, is paramount.
The subject matter of this particular article is the University Administration of Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab headed by Dr Paramjit Singh Jaswal, aided and assisted by an ex-jailer who functions as the Administrative Officer, Mr. SP Singh.
Mr SP Singh’s past profession is of import here as he runs the administration in a similar fashion to how our jails are run – with maximum constraints upon its subjects and oftentimes disregard for their rights. In this case, Mr SP Singh is also accused of the particular characteristic of the time and tested control mechanism for womankind – patriarchy, something espoused not only by him, but manifested by most of the RGNUL Administration.
Our Protest Was Characterised as ‘Violent’ and ‘Ruthless’
All this in a National Law University dedicated to training lawyers of tomorrow who will work to preserve the rights of individuals in the excellent constitutional backdrop being established by the Supreme Court today.
On 13 March 2019, some students of RGNUL, Punjab protested against the quality of food served in the ‘Boys Mess’. This protest was done by banging steel plates on the mess tables. On 15 March 2019, the administration, characterising the protest as ‘violence’ and ‘ruthlessness,’ zeroed in on six students, harassing them and violating their fundamental rights.
These students were wrongfully suspended from the campus – which is not only an entirely disproportionate penalty, but also an egregious violation of rights, particularly that of being heard and of being penalised by the correct authority, i.e. the vice chancellor and not the administrative authority, as was the case here.
All this by a university which claims to be an island of legal excellence.
Select students among these 6 were further subjected to degrading treatment constituting a deprivation of their right to privacy.
Mobile phones were confiscated, private correspondence was forcibly perused in a general atmosphere of coercion by the students of the university. Upon attempting to exercise their fundamental right of privacy, one student was abused by a faculty member and told that they are in no position to ‘teach them the law’. This form of behaviour must constitute the facet of any formal enquiry initiated in furtherance of this submission.
Since the evening of 15 March, until the present moment, the students of RGNUL have been on a peaceful protest asking for the illegal suspension order to be revoked.
It is imperative to understand that this protest transpired not just because of the immediate issue at hand, but because of larger frustrations among the students such as rampant sexism, opaque and vengeful administration, unavailability of official documents - and having no recourse to address these grievances.
This unaccountable system was in, a large part, extant because of the lack of any student representation which can take up these issues with the administration. Previous attempts of formulating a student body have been foiled by the administration and vengeful action has been taken against those leading these attempts.
How The Protest Started
At around 1 am on 16 March 2019, the student community of RGNUL formulated the RGNUL Students Association to organise collectively and to represent the interests of the students before the administration in a democratic manner.
Challenging the administration, this student association submitted a representation to the authorities which, in addition to the appeal for revocation of the penalty imposed against our six students, highlighted other key issues, viz. lack of transparency, discriminatory in-timings for girls and accompanying rampant sexism by the administrative officer, and misuse of university resources.
Like the last set of protests, this peaceful protest too is being challenged by the administration, being misrepresented (as has been the norm of administrations similarly in the recent HNLU protests and elsewhere). Some students have been threatened by faculty members that there will be repercussions for their part in the protests in their Viva-Voce.
Since the beginning of our protest, the students have had three Punjab and Haryana High Court judges address them, none to their satisfaction.
On the morning of 16 March, after an overnight protest, two High Court judges who were at the guest house, after relentless representations, scrapped the suspension of the students after looking at their wrongful penalty and promised that there will be committees set up to look into the other claims of discriminatory in-timings, suspension of the administrative authority, and setting up a student representative body.
Their request that we quit the protest, however, was unrealised, particularly because we sought assurances on their statements. In the end, we dispersed upon the promise of the judges that the Chancellor of the university, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, would be present on Sunday to hear our grievances.
In the afternoon, another senior Justice of the High Court came, bringing news that there was no way the chancellor would address his students, and that the earlier promise was a miscommunication. The Hon’ble Judge made promises stating that the administrative authority will be sent on leave, while a committee is set up to address his misdemeanours and the revocation of the suspension of the 6 students, and also our demands of addressing discriminatory in-timings and formalisation of a student body.
Further, like the earlier judges, upon making his promises, he stated that if we do not agree to what they have put before us and call off the protest, all their promises will be scrapped and we will get nothing out of the protest. It is telling that the judge himself had remarked, during the course of a conversation with the entire student collective, that the suspension orders were unlawful and the administrative officer’s actions were sexist and discriminatory.
The students rejected the offers when, upon asking for further details, particularly with respect to asking for the constituent of the committee and inquiring if there would be any conflict of interest among the committee members. Here at RGNUL, we are no strangers to committees and inquiries being set up, for we have witnessed the patent disregard of our rights in those bodies. We are tired of them not realising and addressing the injustices they are set up to remedy.
We continue with the protests. On the evening of 16 March, the university sent an email to the parents of the students mis-characterising their demands and portraying the students as obstinate. Nothing could be further from the truth. We want assurances, and we want justice to be done. Rather, we want justice to not only be done, but also seen to be done.
The time is now for maladministration, corruption and nepotism to end in our universities. Professors of literature may be happy that we understand the nature of Orwell’s world intimately, but as students, we would much rather misunderstand the concept than experience it first-hand.
(All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)
(Hi there! We will be continuing our news service on WhatsApp. Meanwhile, stay tuned to our Telegram channel here.)