On December 23, Nandu Parvathy, a PhD scholar at the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) in Hyderabad, held a silent protest against the Citizenship Amendments Act (CAA), in solidarity with thousands of other students across the country who have been protesting against the contentious Act. She held a placard that read “No to NRC, CAA #Civil disobedience”, and stood silently in front of the University library.
However, in no time, the university proctor informed her that she isn’t allowed to carry out any form of protest inside the campus and she was also told by her department to refrain from such activities. Nandu says while she was talking to the administration, authorities clicked her pictures without her consent. They also threatened to call the police if Nandu refused to back out.
All university authorities quoted one rule in their defence that students cannot protest.
Starting from the academic year 2016, all students who join EFLU were made to sign an annexure that prevents those studying in the university from taking part in any form of protest. EFLU students allege that the annexure came into place after 11 students were expelled from their hostels for being part of a protest.
Sunaina Singh, the then Vice-Chancellor of EFLU, expelled the 11 students from their hostels. The students were reinstated following pressure from the students’ union which was finally formed in November 2015.
2016 was also the year that saw massive protests in the neighbouring Hyderabad Central University (HCU) following the suicide of PhD scholar Rohith Vemula.
Nandu says that since the document doesn’t specify what these rules and regulations are, the University enjoys a free hand in using it against the students at their will.
"I was an MA student in the campus rom 2014-16 and had to sign no annexure. But when I again joined in 2018 to pursue my PhD, I had to sign the document and submit it separately to the proctor,” Ajay, another PhD student at EFLU, tells TNM.
He also adds that amid the nationwide protests against CAA, the students of EFLU have not been allowed to hold any protests inside or outside the campus against CAA.
“The guards come and force us to disperse if we are found in large numbers in any corner of the university. All that the students’ union has been able to do so far is to release a statement that condemned the CAA,” Ajay says.
Torsa, another student at EFLU who was also a part of the 2016-17 students’ union, says that the annexure was brought in place without any prior announcement or discussions.
“We tried our best to scrap it but the authorities kept saying the matter was subjudice and the law was in place. Our plans to express solidarity against fee hike in JNU were also stifled by the administration,” Torsa says.
Nandu says that following her protest in front of the library, the students decided to paint anti-CAA slogans on T-shirts.
“We gathered at a spot inside the campus to do the writings and soon security guards asked us to stop whatever we were doing. When we told them that we were only writing, they told that we were not supposed to write anything that opposes the Citizenship Bill!” Nandu says.
The students were also not allowed to take part in the protest marches that were held in Osmania and other places because the annexure prohibits students from taking part in protests identifying themselves as students of EFLU.
“We had planned to go in groups, but the authorities stopped us again informing that we can’t participate labelling ourselves as students from EFLU. Finally, we left the campus individually to take part in the protest. In short, they simply want the students in this campus to only study and not take part or question laws that can put the authorities in an uncomfortable position,” Nandu adds.
Speaking to TNM, L Ravichander, senior advocate at the Telangana High Court, says that curbing the right to protest in any academic space is a violation of fundamental rights.
“There cannot be a waiver on constitutional rights. If a constitution guarantees its citizens the right to protest, no institution can strip it off. If an absurd rule such as this is justified, it can even make bonded labour seem alright,” the lawyer adds.
Reacting to the allegations made by the students, Samson Thomas, proctor, EFLU, said that there was no such blanket ban on protests inside campus.
“The students should first approach us and share their grievances. No one should go on flash protests without first having a dialogue with the administration,” he said.
Thomas, however, didn’t give a clear response to if that means protests are allowed in the campus.
“Annexure 5 has been in place for the past few years. Students are making absurd claims now amid the CAA protests. Most of the students have gone for winter break and we haven’t come across any protests yet in the campus,” he added.