Speech & action

'Kathua' gets law student a suspension

Print edition : May 11, 2018

R. Priya. Photo: By Special Arrangement

THE Government Law College, Coimbatore, suspended a female first-year student, R. Priya, for allegedly raising issues relating to Hindutva and patriarchy while delivering a speech on the Kathua rape case in her classroom on April 13. Priya, who is from Erode, was also barred from entering the college premises until further orders. Later, the college management revoked the suspension “temporarily” on her request in order to enable her to write her examinations.

On the morning of April 13, a guest lecturer reportedly asked students in the English language class to speak extempore on any topic of their choice, an exercise that is meant to help them overcome their inhibitions and stage fright. “When no one came forward, I was asked to speak. I chose to speak about the Kathua case. I spoke about the brutality of the crime, and underscored the patriarchal bias ingrained in Hindutva’s societal structure and issues such as objectification of women. I said these factors were responsible for dastardly acts such as the Kathua case,” Priya told Frontline.

The speech lasted only a minute and a half, said Priya, who is a member of the left-leaning Revolutionary Students’ Front. “She spoke with clarity,” said one of her classmates. The college management, however, did not take kindly to it. A couple of assistant professors and some of Priya’s classmates, all boys, walked into the classroom when she was speaking and admonished the student and the guest lecturer. They then went to the Principal’s room where a closed-door meeting was reportedly held for nearly an hour. Priya’s classmates said the administration compelled a few students to give a statement against her. Thereafter, a “preliminary inquiry” was conducted, which supposedly found prima facie evidence against her. The Principal summoned Priya at around 3 p.m. and handed over the suspension order. “I was not given an opportunity to explain my position,” she said.

The suspension order accused Priya of inciting “gender and communal enmity” among fellow students and issuing threats to a few faculty members and preventing them from discharging their duties. It added that the students had told the college management that Priya had been posting messages on social media urging them to boycott classes whenever protests were organised by a few outfits against the government . She had reportedly called the boys “male chauvinists” and attempted to incite communal disharmony among them. Her behaviour on the campus as a whole, it noted, was in violation of the rules of the college and against the recommendations of the Justice P. Shanmugam Committee appointed in 2008 to improve the quality of legal education.

Denying these allegations, Priya said that many “oppressive” methods were used on the campus to stifle the voices of students. “We are being monitored through CCTV cameras fitted inside every classroom. There is no interaction, either amongst ourselves or with the faculty. A sort of fear lingers in every corner of this institution under the ruse of discipline. Anyone found to be embarrassing and inconvenient [to the management] is identified and isolated,” said Priya. She said although she was an active member of the Revolutionary Students’ Front, “my activities with the outfit remain outside the college”.

When contacted, the Principal, K.S. Gopalakrishnan, told Frontline over phone that Priya had been suspended “since she has been an instrument in creating a hostile environment on college premises, threatening the peaceful coexistence of the students and jeopardising their pursuit of higher education.” He said: “After conducting an inquiry into the content of her speech in the classroom and taking into consideration her overall conduct in the institution, we decided to suspend her. In fact, I prevented a situation on the college premises that would have harmed her. The boys were angry. In fact I saved her [by suspending her],” he said.

Asked if he had consulted the Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University (TNDALU) on this matter, Gopalakrishnan said that as an administrative head of the college, he had adequate powers to take any decision in order to ensure the smooth functioning of the college. “We need not consult the university since it is concerned with academics and admissions. I informed the Directorate of Legal Studies, Government of Tamil Nadu, which takes care of management of colleges,” he said. Gopalakrishnan said there was no hidden agenda behind Priya’s suspension. “I belong to no group. My sole objective is to keep the campus clear of any religious and radical confrontation,” he said.

The incident assumed significance in the context of the recent appointment of Tamma Suryanarayana Sastry as Vice Chancellor of the Tamil Nadu Dr Ambedkar Law University by Governor Banwarilal Purohit, a move strongly criticised by political parties in Tamil Nadu. Meanwhile, Priya said she had not committed any crime. “I am a Marxist Periyarist. I wish to have a campus that respects fundamental rights and freedom of expression. I would love to continue my studies unhindered. That is all,” she said.

Ilangovan Rajasekaran