Day 4 of RGNUL Protests: Students approach State Human Rights Commission, Police and RAF called in

Meera Emmanuel March 18 2019

Even as the mid-semester exams are scheduled to start at 3 pm today, students of the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (RGNUL), Patiala have opted to carry on with their agitation, which now enters Day 4.

The protests erupted last Friday over the “arbitrary and wrongful” suspension of six hostel inmates as well as long-standing systemic issues of maladministration.

After reconciliatory talks with Vice-Chancellor Dr Paramjit Jaswal failed yesterday, it was decided that the students, except those in their final year, would boycott today's exams. The students also collected their ID cards to mark their decision to boycott the mid-semester exams due to begin this afternoon.

In an interesting development, it now appears that the University has issued a notification this afternoon informing students that they would be permitted to write the examinations even if they do not have their ID card.

This, despite earlier University instructions that students must necessarily carry their ID cards in order to write their exams, as updated this month.

Another important development is the decision of the RGNUL students to approach the Punjab State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) for intervention. A representation filed with the SHRC seeks for the initiation of a probe into the alleged human rights violations at RGNUL.

Police, RAF called in, Media access restricted

While students continue to remain outdoors in peaceful protest today, police presence in the campus has been increased. It also appears that Rapid Action Forces (RAF) have been deployed today.

A source told Bar & Bench that there are around 300 officers present in and around the campus. Students are wary that their presence may be used to escalate violence and turn the case against the student protestors. It is said that as a measure of caution, the students have opted to stop sloganeering for now as they carry on with the peaceful protests.

On the other hand, the University has shut its gates on the media. It is said that security officers on campus have been instructed not to let in any media persons into the RGNUL campus since yesterday.

As the protests gained momentum, more student bodies have expressed solidarity with the protesting students of RGNUL, including those of the NLU Student Consortium, NUALS, HPNLU, MNLU (Mumbai), MNLU (Aurangabad), NUSRL, University of Delhi (Law Students Union), JGLS (Legal Aid Clinic), HNLU, the NSIU and the LSU, Panjab University.

In the meanwhile, the only formal response of the University administration to the protestors so far appears to be an unsigned statement purportedly issued by the Registrar which was circulated yesterday. The same contains a response to the four demands made by the student protestors.

The statement says that the suspension of the six students has been revoked and that Administrative Officer SP Singh, who issued the suspension order, will be sent on leave with immediate effect. Students had objected to the suspension order as being invalid since it was issued without a proper hearing and in the absence of the Vice-Chancellor.

However, as pointed out by a student at the University, in the absence of any written orders, even the decision to send Administrative Officer SP Singh on leave may as be a temporary measure only to stall the protests.

Apart from this, the University also released a press note yesterday, recounting the events leading up to the protests. On the reconciliatory efforts by the administration, it states,

"Vice-Chancellor along with faculty members again addressed the students on 17th March 2019 also and heard their grievances. During the interaction of the students with the Vice- Chancellor, the students demanded that the suspension of students be revoked immediately; action against the administrative officer be taken; in-timing of the girls' hostel be increased till late night and; elected student body be allowed to involve students in participation in university decision making.

Vice-Chancellor assured that all the demands will be considered after discussion with the Chancellor immediately and appropriate action will be taken at the earliest and requested the students to end their protest. However, students did not accept the request of the Vice-Chancellor. It is pertinent to mention here that during the interaction of the students with the Hon’ble Judges and with the Vice-Chancellor, the issue of quality of mess food which initiated the strike was never raised."

Students seek meeting with University Chancellor

Student agitators stand firm that the protests would not be called off on oral assurances alone. The students continue to demand that formal, written assurances be given. The students also continue to seek an audience with the University Chancellor and Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Krishna Murari.

Amidst vague oral assurances from the University administration that have inspired little confidence amongst the students, it appears that a meeting with the Chancellor may be a possible way out of the deadlock. There has been no formal indication as to whether the Chancellor has been appraised of the developments at the University.

The Vice-Chancellor and other High Court judges who have spoken to the students appear to have indicated earlier that they are speaking on behalf of Justice Murari. However, the Chancellor is yet to visit the campus or issue any communication concerning the protests.

The protests carried on late into the night yesterday. At the end of the day, the students chose to sleep in the streets for a third time as part of their continuing protests. A student statement made yesterday said,

"Our protest continues into the night even today. It's 12 degrees outside and yet all of us are at the university gates with our mattresses on the roads. We want our demands to be met at the earliest, for we ask nothing more than our rights to be respected. We want justice."

Watch Video of protests carried out last night below:

For more updates follow the RGNUL Student Council twitter page here and the FreeRGNUL twitter page here.

Read the representation filed by RGNUL students with the Punjab SHRC:

RGNUL - Constitution of Special Investigation Team to Seek Remedies Against Human Rights Violations

Read University instructions with regard to ID cards for appearance in exams below:

Instructions for Students updated March 2019-2

Read the full press note released by the University below:

Press Statement

Feature image taken from here.

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