HNLU law students on hunger strike, demand VC’s resignation

Written by CJP | Published on: October 1, 2018

51 students complained about sexual harassment by one law professor but the VC never sent the complaint to ICC and the professor continues to teach at HNLU.


Raipur: The students of Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU) in Raipur have gone on hunger strike from Monday demanding the resignation of Vice Chancellor Dr. Sukhpal Singh. The VC has threatened to shut the varsity if they do not stop their protests.
“Akansh Jain, a member of the Student Bar Association (SBA) of the university told PTI that students had lost faith in the "incompetent" administration and "arbitrary and discriminatory" decision making style of Dr Singh. Students have been protesting since 25 September demanding the V-C's resignation. The student body held a meeting Saturday with Chancellor AK Tripathi but it did not yield any result as he did not indicate if he would ask Dr Singh to resign, Jain said in a report.
"Thereafter, the students decided to sit on a hunger strike from 8 a.m Monday," Jain said.
“The administration of Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU), Raipur, on Sunday announced that the varsity would be closed sine die if the students go ahead with their campus-wide hunger strike on Monday. ‘The university appeals to all the students to call off the protest immediately and resume their classes from Monday. If the students do not call off the protest by the said date, the university shall be compelled to take appropriate course of action, including closure of the university sine die, to restore normalcy,’ HNLU Vice-Chancellor Prof. Sukhpal Singh said in his appeal to the students as reported by The Hindu.
“Among the reasons provided by the students for the protest are allegations of financial irregularities, inaction against sexual harassment complaints, lack of transparency, suppression of students and the students' association, arbitrary hiring and firing of faculty members, centralisation of administrative power, and alleged maladministration,” the report said.
There have also been accounts of rampant sexual harassment and no action taken against the accused by the VC.
The protest began a month ago when women hostelers defied the curfew imposed on them and stayed out 'to stake our claim at accessing campus space beyond 1030pm'. They were joined and supported by male students and the protest has grown into a genuine, all-campus movement against seemingly intolerable conditions at HNLU.
The most urgent allegations include sexual harassment by a faculty member who is being protected from investigation or due process.
“In March this year, a faculty member allegedly called a second-year student of HNLUto his desk during a class and asked her to dance for him. "I have seen you dancing at parties. Why don't you dance for me here?" the man told the 19-year-old girl. The student told HuffPost India that even as the classroom was stunned into silence, the man kept badgering her.
"You can dance in public places, you can't dance for me?" he is reported to have told her. Shocked, the girl managed to mutter that she was uncomfortable and hurried back to her seat as his booming laughter drowned the silence in the room,” the Huffington Post report said.
“In the months following the incident, several women classmates started sharing with her stories of harassment they faced from the same professor. ‘He told one girl, 'only wear formals to college, I like looking at you this way'. He asked someone else what shampoo she used and insisted she wash her hair with it every day. Then he would promise to give extra attendance for students who would do him favours,” the student told HuffPost India.
“On 7 August this year, the woman, with help from her classmates, wrote an elaborate memorandum where twelve instances of harassment were detailed. The petition was signed with support messages by 51 of the 54 students in the class. Six women from the class went on record with their names in the document. The students said that they then went to vice-chancellor Sukhpal Singh to submit the petition. But when they turned up at the VC's office with their complaint, the student told HuffPost India, they were reprimanded instead,” the report said.
Aabha Dixit, a member of the students' body of the university told HuffPost India that the professor had tried to withhold the attendance of one of the complainants. The seniors never complained formally fearing repercussions, Dixit added.
“Meanwhile, the Chhattisgarh High Court directed Singh to step down, following a petition filed by a faculty member protesting the extension of his term. So the VC left his post on 27 August. ‘We were slightly relieved. There was no ICC (Internal Complaints Committee) till a year back and one was constituted without the mandatory member from an NGO,” the complainant told HuffPost India.
"The VC should have ideally forwarded them to the ICC, but because of his callous response, the complaint never reached the ICC at all,” Dixit told HuffPost India.
They've also raised a wide slate of other issues: alleged misuse of funds and financial discrepancies; negligence of mandatory admin actions on exams, hostels and mess; and the quality of academics and student-faculty ratio.
Students have made themselves vulnerable by standing up against the Vice-Chancellor in person (his removal was ordered by the Chhattisgarh HC, before the order was stayed by the SC on Sept 25th). As the stakes have risen (the VC in a letter today said, 'None of your activities is in accordance with law' and threatened the closure of the University), the student protesters are sticking to their guns -- and promised to begin an indefinite hunger-strike tomorrow (Oct 1).
In an unconfirmed report, it was said that ABVP representatives have declared that all govt universities in Chattisgarh will remain closed tomorrow in solidarity with the hunger-strike.