The students of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Sonepat (DBRANLU) have been fighting an uphill battle. In the last week of April, they decided to boycott classes. This decision came because, as per the students, none of their grievances was being acknowledged by the University. (Read a statement by the students of 2024 Batch here).
A few days before the boycott, the four class representatives of the Batch of 2024, currently the senior-most batch at the University, had resigned.
In the resignation letter, these students mentioned the “one-way communication” from college and “[communication of] important information either orally or via WhatsApp groups” in response to the students’ written grievances, as some of the reasons for their resignation. (Read the entire letter here).
When all of this happened, the University took notice. Right after the boycott, the University cancelled classes for a week and eventually held a meeting with the students on May 5.
We heard recordings from the meeting. We also spoke to a few students, who under the condition of anonymity, told us the problems which they have been facing. A lot of concerning facts have come out.
The Meeting on May 5
The students had a lot of concerns in the meeting: non-publication of results, infrastructure issues, ad-hoc faculty and their quality, and lack of responses to students’ communication, amongst others.
The Vice-Chancellor, midway in the conversation, responded saying that the students needed to develop a more positive approach and look at the glass half-full, instead of half-empty. It was also told to the students (later in the same meeting) that “whenever things are smooth, you just pop up a problem that this or that is happening.”
On asking for institutional email IDs and moving away from WhatsApp, the administration responded that in today’s world WhatsApp is more formal since people use it more than email, and people at the highest levels also use WhatsApp. However, after some time they agreed to give institutional IDs.
One of the demands which the students had was that they get limited access to SCC, Manupatra and are not able to download more than a few judgments (500 pages in total). The Vice-Chancellor said that for academic purposes, moots etc. 500 pages would be sufficient.
Finally, she told that the University would support students for genuine demands, but not for illegal demands. She also reminded that students were also not attending special lectures, and that they also must participate more.
Till now, the University has provided students (who would be appearing for their fourth-semester exams soon) with the results of the first semester only.
When students complained that this was making their loan applications, internships difficult, the University asked, “why do you need results, when you have the ID card?“. The students explained why GPAs are important for internships. The University then said that they would try publishing the results soon.
The next query the students had was that in the online exam sometimes answers get submitted without them choosing any answers. There were instances where within 5 minutes of an exam starting, the portal shows that they have completed the exam. They also have to attempt the exam multiple times, as the portal keeps malfunctioning. The University called the technician, who initially said that the system works fine. However, after students pushed back, the University agreed to look into the matter.
One of the biggest issues was that of faculty, which was discussed at length in the meeting. The students said they weren’t understanding subjects and teachers were teaching without having a particular specialization. They wanted better faculty. One (non-sequitur) question which was asked from students that how do they know that if the next teachers would be better.
However, the VC finally brushed aside the topic and said that she would be monitoring the teachers herself. There were also some issues of nepotism and favouritism in grading students. She said she’ll look into that as well.
Finally, when students asked for written assurance, the Registrar asked the students if they also ask their parents to give them things in writing. He said that the University rather believes in getting things done. Then, he asked the students, if they wanted things in writing or if they believed in getting things done. Some of them pointed out that both aren’t mutually exclusive.
The Registrar also advised the students to discontinue their practice of asking for, and sending, things in writing.
However, after the students constantly pushed for it, the University admin agreed to reply in writing. (Read the University’s response to students here).
The meeting ended with a statement that “demands are endless, resources are limited…there is a proper channel to take things in the right direction.”
As we understand, that while the University has undertaken some steps after the meeting, like Grievance Redressal Cell related issues, exam schedule etc., a lot of the promises still remain unresolved.
Policing on Campus
When we spoke to students, some of the details which came out were worrying.
Students complained about moral policing on campus. They told us that the college doesn’t allow for wearing shorts on campus. The University Handbook, which has been put up recently, says that students must be “dress[ed] decently on and outside the campus“.
We were informed that girls have come to know of incidents that their pictures have been clicked and informally reported if they were found wearing shorts. This has also happened if a boy and a girl were roaming on the campus together.
Girls have been asked to dress “decently”. Questions have been raised about what they would be wearing if they are going out of campus.
Students also told us that girls and boys are treated differently when students want to go out of campus. According to rules, both boys and girls have to get parental confirmation before leaving campus. However, boys are let out without much hassle, sometimes without calling their parents but girls aren’t until their parents give a confirmation.
COVID Protocols and Hawans
On April 26, 2021 the University held a hawan and puja on the occasion of its inauguration day (video here).
On April 14, 2021, it celebrated 130 years of Ambedkar Jayanti (video here). In one picture from the inauguration ceremony, everyone is on stage without any masks or social distancing.
On that day, Harayana had recorded its single biggest jump in COVID cases till then.
We were also informed that the college held a hawan last year to ward off COVID.
Public universities should ideally refrain from religious acts. If they are doing it, however, they must do it inclusively.
Students told us that the University did not give a holiday for Eid-ul-Fitr this year, which was on May 14. Eid is a gazetted holiday at both the central and the state level.
Issue of Language
The University had said that it would give 4 options for languages– Hindi, Sanskrit, French, and German. One had to be picked, to be studied as an additional language along with English. However, the University cancelled French and German, leaving the students only with Hindi and Sanskrit. (Read notification here),
Students tell us that this has resulted in them facing difficulty, with many who have never studied Hindi/Sanskrit being at a disadvantage.
This issue ties to a larger issue of the quality of teaching. In the meeting with the University on May 5, most students expressed deep concern about their studies. They have also said that the college often changes subjects to suit the teachers who are present, rather than the other way around.
Therefore, students study a few subjects like Sociology, Political Science, and English for three semesters (see here).
There seem to be some issues with the hiring of new faculty. A case is pending before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which is the roadblock to hiring new faculty, the University has told students. Once that is resolved, permanent faculty will be hired.
When most universities have concerns such as extensions or dealing with the pandemic, the students of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar NLU, Sonepat seem to have bigger and more pervasive things to worry about. While new universities take time to set the processes running, we hope they do so while maintaining a culture of openness, and listen to the needs of its students, who are central to any educational institute.
Note: We reached out to the University for a response. While the University said that there are “teething” issues, it didn’t answer our questions. It broadly said that they have taken the “necessary steps” for online classes, all its faculty had “verified credentials and are equipped to teach their courses”, and that students’ welfare is their top priority.
It also said that we were relying on “baseless claims for which the university has received no complaints thus far.” However, the boycott of classes, the meeting between students and the administration, and the attachments in the story show that there have indeed been complaints about many of the things mentioned above.
We find it unfortunate that the college didn’t engage with us despite our attempts to reach out to them in a bona fide manner. The University also threatened legal action (defamation) against us if we go ahead with the story. Talking about such issues related to legal education is critical, and we are hence publishing this story.
Umang graduated from NUJS in 2019. After that, he worked at L&L Partners before taking up the role of an Editorial Head at Lawctopus. You can find him on Twitter @UmangPod, and read some of his other writings at twodsinapodd.wordpress.com.
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