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Protesting AIL Mohali students call off strike, win some concessions, interim body

Admin agrees to temporary student representation
Admin agrees to temporary student representation

The administration of Army Institute of Law (AIL) Mohali has accepted several student demands, with students having now constituted an interim representative body and having been promised more student participation in the running of the college.

AIL’s were the latest of many recent law schools protests, of which several managed to make real impacts (sometimes with unpredictable consequences).

And while the The Times of India reported on 23 October that students had called off the protests without any demands having been met after the administration “had sent messages to their parents that disciplinary action would be taken”.

But things weren’t nearly as bleak, an AIL student told us.

Yes, students have agreed to halt the strike, but protest would not end and instead manifest more quietly in future rather than through striking, according to the student, who cited a candle light vigil by students on 22 October after the strike had formally ended.

In any case, the main and arguably most important demand of students to get a “democratically elected interim student body” has now been met now (see screenshot of notice above).

This can hopefully avoid future impasses between students and admin.

Furthermore, the students are currently in the process of drafting a charter for a permanent body, which would be submitted to the administration by 15 November.

Students have also been promised the ability to give feedback on faculty and service providers (including regarding the mess food, where a fine of Rs 1,000 was levied on the contractor on 22 October after students allegedly found an insect in lunch food).

Students have also won a promise of representation and fair hearings in student disciplinary proceedings and have made recommendations on how to improve the code of conduct at the college. They have also been allowed to submit a written complaint against a warden, against whom they had grievances.

However, there is no guarantee that everything will go smoothly from now on in, despite those concession.

On 18 October, after AIL students had been protesting for around two days, the management said it would consider the creation of an interim body of students without elections while also rejecting pretty much all other student demands, which was publicised in a notice distributed to students (pictured below).

A student at the time told us that this was “just an evasive tactic” by the admin and avoiding giving any definitive answer. “After we give them the draft charter, they can still reject it without any ground,” added the student, chastising the general decision-making at AIL happening without them being heard.

And students’ call for a lifting of the 23:00 campus curfew and discussions regarding a fee hike have not been accepted by the admin.

Nevertheless, the concessions are more than perhaps even students had initially hoped for, after early dialogues with the administration during the strike allegedly saw students roundly ignored by the administration until they called off their strike.

Private army law school

AIL is nominally a private institution that is funded by members of the armed forces via the Army Welfare Education Society and is in-part administered by retired army officers (the head of administration and registrar is Col Harbinder Singh (retired)).

Out of 80 annual seats therefore, 60 are reserved for the offspring of army personnel, and 16 for Punjab state residents. Only 4 out of 80 seats, or 5%, are open to all India “civil” category students.

One might think that the above configuration would make it difficult to mobilise wider national support, but the AIL students more or less did everything (and more) that other successful (or less so) NLU student protests have done in recent years.

AIL students had maintained a very active social media presence during the protests, for instance, particularly on Instagram.

There was quite a bit of media coverage and students also managed to garner apparent written endorsements from numerous alumni batches and at least 16 other law school student bodies or “concerned students” (the list of supporting statements shared by AIL students include basically every NLU and then some: TISS Hyderabad, NLU Delhi, DSNLU Visakhapatnam, Nalsar Hyderabad, JGLS Sonepat’s legal aid clinic, NLU Odisha, NUJS Kolkata, NLU Nagpur, Aligarh Muslim University, NLU Jodhpur, NLSIU Bangalore, RGNUL Patiala, CNLU Patna, HPNLU Shimla, HNLU Raipur and MNLU Mumbai).

Free to listen?

The Instagram and social media handles have been quiet since the strike was called off, but this is a promising start.

Not listening to students, preferably via something like an elected student body or representatives, means there is no safety valve to their discontent, and no way for them to share grievances and other issues (some of which may be solved easily).

In the absence of being listened to, the alternative for many law students these days - perhaps encouraged by others’ successes - seems to be to protest, resulting in missed classes and/or threatening notes written to parents.

Neither situation is sustainable or desirable in the long term for India’s legal education.

And while students can continue protesting, it is ultimately those running law schools who need to recognise that times may be changing, and that listening does not actually have to come at a cost and can even be beneficial.

Admin had earlier rejected most demands but agreed to ‘consider’ student representatives
Admin had earlier rejected most demands but agreed to ‘consider’ student representatives

Statement of students relief / demands via Instagram
Statement of students relief / demands via Instagram

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