This is where construed hierarchies brood, masculinity takes new shapes in ragging and the oppressed becomes the oppressor with new students coming in here. National Academy for Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) is an aesthetically beautiful academic space that is situated in the land of many important civil movements in the country – Telangana.
NALSAR is one of the top law schools in India where one witnesses no diversity in student population, where the minority always does not have a voice and their experiences have been systematically ignored. This may sound illusory, but only victims know the nature of the place.
The campus poses as liberal, posh and democratic. But one has to question one’s own politics whilst asserting themselves as open-minded, forward and welcoming. One has to interrogate their own circle to check how inclusive and welcoming they really are. NALSAR is the brand for legal education in the country.
Like all that glitters is not gold, the aesthetic campus may trick you into thinking that it can be a life settling experience. But the question is, does this place render the same experience to ALL? Absolutely not. Testimonies of students prove NALSAR to be insensitive to many profound issues that need to be in daily discourse.
Discussion is completely absent and no one pays heed to the issues of caste, class, gender, and sexuality. These issues have no place on this colourful campus. Though some of the students have established a Gender and Sexuality Forum (NALSAR Gender and Sexuality Forum), there is a need for a more inclusive platform to not just study gender and sexuality on the surface but to delve into their intersections. NALSAR accommodates various forms of discrimination based on gender, skin colour, walking style, dressing style, caste and class.
We entered the campus with a lot of vanity and necessary proudness that was gifted to us from the struggles of our ancestors, mothers and friends. We knew we had to fight again. Fight all our lives. We had to fight the education system, we had to fight within families, we had to fight morality, we had to fight caste, class, gender. After all, we are born not free, but with these identities and we had to eventually take the fight to the university.
Caste, though complex, is clear in its form and action. Academic spaces are hoarded by General Category students – it was inevitably hard for a collective platform to be built to let our voices out, despite bombarded debates rooted in discrimination. The first instance is of our castes popping up in our merit list of entrance exams unlike those for General Category students.
Calling them ‘general’ students made me think, are reserved category students not students at all, in general? I could not digest my caste hanging beside my name on the merit list. It is not because that I do not want to be recognized as such, but why ONLY US?
I strongly believe that the university allotment list with its merit hierarchy reinforces the power structures and reaffirms caste privilege and power. I don’t mean to be against reservations based on caste, but ranks and category names next to the name of a person reinforce the power structures. Caste is subtly, but strongly playing its role here. Institutionalized casteism in action.
Feminism and Feminists
One instance that made me uncongenial to the feminism on campus was when one of our batchmates, a dark-skinned Adivasi boy, from a working-class background, whose walking style doesn’t fit into notions of ‘decency’ was elucidating his experience. When it comes to feminism, he thinks it must question caste discrimination. The so-called staunch feminists of the campus paid no attention to this.
Their dhabas, mess gossips, Facebook memes excluded the ‘other’ experience and ignored the caste question and its place in feminism. I could not understand then. I questioned and started to think. At some point, I refused to call them feminists and had no interest in engaging in their feminist politics and discussions.
Feminism that ignores the experience of a rural person and rejects caste discrimination is not feminism at all. The idea of feminism that excludes ‘other’ struggles cannot be the same anymore. It is just hypocrisy.
I am privileged when it comes to class and can afford to buy clothes that fit into principles of ‘classy’ – So I was heard but denied completely. I see feminists giggling at a Dalit woman’s body hair. I see feminists gossiping about a Muslim student’s hijab. I see feminists glaringly denying ‘our’ experience.
The problem in understanding feminism and its real interests is lacking in academic spaces. Martha (name changed), a Dalit woman student says, “One of our batchmates, a Brahmin upper-class woman has cleaned her bed with sprinkling water after I sat on her bed”. She’s a part of the group photo of NALSAR Gender and Sexuality Forum which says, “We are what feminists look like”. If this is what they call feminism, there is a need to deconstruct and redefine it.
Feminism in the campus has been reduced to selectively fighting sexual harassment. Fighting other forms of sexual harassment has no place in it. When a male senior points out a queer person’s attire to a bunch of his friends, it is sexual harassment in broad daylight in the mess. The question is, when senior men students enjoy the hierarchy of seniority, consciously pass comments about queer juniors, does the latter have an agency to put the issue forward? NO.
Power Structure Suppress Voices
The structures of power hierarchies internalize silence and further normalize systematic violence. This is a common phenomenon in every academic space. It works subtly and strongly. The ambience that the campus has created is absolutely not queer-friendly or feminist-friendly, though a lot of people’s assignments would be based on gender equality and LBGT rights. Hypocrisy is in every corner of academic discourse.
Feminism on campus is just an assertive identity but it is not a performance. The action is utterly dead and works in favour of the privileged. I have witnessed very staunch self-proclaimed feminists gazing at my way of dressing and gossiping about my sexuality. As an indigenous-Dalit middle-class woman student puts it, “I’ve been constantly and consciously reminded to shave my hair on legs with toxic gazes of woman students itself”. The way they impose their feminism someone different than them is very troublesome and patriarchal – everyday normal life on campus.
This normalizing attitude and culture speak a lot about their own hidden filth. One of the students of NALSAR, Kumarjeet Ray says, “Yes, there is obviously a certain and definite class consciousness that runs deep into the social spheres and in almost all societal interactions in NALSAR. Besides the usual and obvious bias based on where a person is from, there is also a bias on how well one is equipped in English, both linguistically and culturally. The first set of friendship always happens based on how Western or non-Western you are. Every year, the juniors form a group of what is commonly called the “yo” gang. Where its mainly English-speaking people, who maintain a Western lifestyle.”
At the freshers, the Hindi-speaking seniors naturally interact more with the Hindi-speaking juniors, the “yo” seniors with their “yo” juniors, and so on and so forth. Thus, as a result, interaction is limited to people from the same social background doing the same things. Thus, class consciousness in NALSAR comes from a linguistic level and how Western you are, which would mean that students from big cities are perceived to be more Western as opposed to the rest.
Administration is not an exception
The administration is not an exception when it comes to perpetuating sexism. Surprisingly, the code of conduct in the academic block still has a provision to dress up properly. To cover up to the knees – exclusively for girls.
Feminism cannot be separated from caste and class. Feminism must address class consciousness and casteism in academic spaces and feminist informal groups in universities. Caste that operates in every corner of different blocks and streams of campuses, is dyed with the toxic “due process” and systematic justice dispensation.
A beautiful place with a colourful congregation of plants has its roots in blood. Some minds are colonized, but some stubborn minds are destroyed as is the aim of caste. The campus has classist, casteist and misogynist cacophonies veiled with a mask of modernity. When shall I and my people hear the sweet music of liberation? When?