After weeks of protest – and on the very day the protests escalated to a hunger strike by the student body – the Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU) vice chancellor Dr. Sukh Pal Singh has stepped down.
As The Wire reported earlier, throughout the course of Singh’s tenure, several complaints were levelled against him, ranging from embezzlement to apathy. Till Monday, various representations made to the the university authorities yielded only assurances of future deliberations, discussions, and dialogues, but no concrete promises of action.
As per the appeal issued by the Student Bar Association, having exhausted all recourses, as a last resort, the students decided to go on a hunger strike on October 1, at the main entrance of the academic building. A total of 26 students, from across all batches, boycotted indefinitely commensal items, and settled on the mattresses laid out for them in the designated area.
The move underlines just how dire and untenable the situation had become. One fifth year student said that while the obstinacy of the administration, and Singh in particular, compelled them to embark on the hunger strike, the students felt no remorse or disappointment as they believed this was the only way to change things for good.
However, the fact that the college students were left with no recourse except to go on indefinite fast makes one question the apathy of an administration.
The student body of HNLU has been waging the current wave of protests since September 25 when Singh was reinstated as the vice-chancellor pursuant to the interim stay order pronounced by the Supreme Court on his ouster by the Chhattisgarh high court, which had invalidated his appointment on technicalities of the procedure followed.
Interestingly, Singh, who has a doctorate in law, and several other faculty members of this law university, including a constitutional law teacher appointed last year, had stated that the all the activities of the students are illegal and amount to contempt of court. The now former vice chancellor has even threatened to file a suit for the same. Students could not decide whether these claims were hilarious or downright perturbing, particularly considering that the right to protest peacefully is a fundamental right under the constitution.
According to the students, Dr. Singh continued to issue threats to students veiled as appeals, using consequences such as disciplinary action and even closure of the university to intimidate students into backing out of the protest. He even released a point by point reply to the issues raised by the students. Other students highlighted the indifferent attitude of the administration, especially the way it ignored complaints of sexual harassment.
The student’s struggle against Singh had drawn support from diverse quarters, including from political parties like the Congress and CPI(ML), the State Bar Council, eminent lawyers, alumni, and even the comedy group AIB. The Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of BJP, had also extended its support to the cause.
Inan Gupta is a third semester student at HNLU.