Jishnu Pranoy, a first-year student at Keralaâ€™s Nehru College was found hanging in his college hostel on January 6, 2017. He took the step after he was allegedly harassed by the college management.
Accusing Jishnu of having cheated during an examination, the college management made him sign on a blank paper and admit that he had indeed copied, just hours before he was found hanging. But does that paper, which Jishnu thought could be detrimental, hold any legal validity at all?
"An inquiry committee later found that Jishnu hadn't copied. If only he had known that the paper he signed on has little legal validity and that an inquiry could bring out the truth. This is the case with a majority of the students in our state...many are not aware that they can seek legal respite and hold their colleges accountable before the law," says Arjun PK, a fourth-year law student at the National University for Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), Kochi.
Arjun is the Executive Director of the Legal Collective for Students Rights (LCSR), a collective formed by law students and a few lawyers across Kerala, a month after Jishnu's death. Through their online page â€˜Your Lawyer Friendâ€™, the collective has been reaching out to students offering free legal advice.
How it all started
Jishnuâ€™s untimely death led Arjun to mull over students' lack of knowledge about legal matters. Arjun roped in a couple of friends (also law students), and the idea of LCSR took shape.
Often, students do not even know that seeking legal recourse is even an option, Arjun points out.
The initial idea was to create an interface to educate students about law and their rights. By the time LCSR was launched in February 2016, they had a couple of lawyers onboard, who agreed to take up cases for free.
Almost a year in, the collective now has over 30 members, and has dealt with at least a hundred queries and fought a dozen cases, all pertaining to the grievances of students.
"While we were researching on the scope of such a platform, we realised that several judgments by the Kerala High Court and the Supreme Court have been anti-student. From cases relating to banning political activities on campus to upholding disciplinary actions against students, we felt that there was a need for intervention," Arjun explains.
The collective has come to the aid of several students, and has dealt with cases where private colleges have refused to give the certificates of a student who wished to drop out, get a transfer and more. In some cases, the college even demanded that the student pay the entire course fee in order to get their certificates.
He points out that it almost never occurs to a student that he/she can pursue take legal measures against their college for issues pertaining to fees, fines and rules. Arjun feels that lack of funds is also what stops them from doing so many-a-time.
"There is a considerable amount of money that needs to be spent to take up a case legally and as far as students are concerned, they find this difficult. Litigation is expensive. And some would think that they are in a college for only a few years and that itâ€™s alright to put up with harassment or unfair rules because itâ€™s temporary," Arjun says.
It was to bridge this gap that the collective was launched, he says.
"There are students who want to speak up against the management for their unfair practices and we are here for them, to make the process easier. Students can approach us and if there is merit, we will take up the case," Arjun adds.
The collective is also handling the case of Anjitha, a student of Sree Kerala Varma College, Thrissur. Anjitha moved court against her collegeâ€™s imposition of a curfew on the inmates of the girls' hostel. There is no such rule for male students.
A positive change
The collective recently released a video explaining the provisions of the law when it comes to cyber crimes. This came after a massive cyber attack was unleashed on actor Parvathy in December 2017.
In the video, Arjun explains various cyber crimes, and how people can seek legal recourse, and what sections the accused can be booked under.
"The video resonated with our followers and we believe it will help us reach out to more students and let them know that there is a platform that will help them in their legal battle," he says.
With the collective completing a year in existence soon, Arjun says that a lot has changed in the last year.
"Many more students have come forward to expose their collegeâ€™s unfair practices. This is no doubt a positive change," Arjun says.