Students at the National Law Universities (“NLUs”) may identify themselves with a certain class, gender, culture, sexual orientation, language, or region. Their experiences at college, including their academic performance and personal interests, can also be a part of how they identify themselves. Because the student bodies are small and diverse, governance is also shaped by concerns about plurality, diversity, and inclusivity.
Gender in the transit constitution
In instituting reserved seats for women within the Executive Committee (a body of office bearers) for 2014-15 under a transit constitution, the NALSAR administration probably felt that they had addressed inclusion holistically.
Historically, Student Bar Council (“SBC”) politics had been disadvantageous to women and has completely ignored the interests of non-LLB students. I have often been part of the sexist and most demeaning lobbying that happens in the boys’ hostel. It was also often said, only partly in jest, that “in Nalsar, the only thing worse than being a first year is being a LLM”.
So when the transit constitution allowed neither for voting by the postgraduate students, nor their representation in the Executive Committee, there were doubts about how far it went in terms of diversity and inclusion.
To create more diversity at the committee and executive levels, the the Constitution Review Committee (“CRC”) had proposed a ‘review system’ as the mechanism for affirmative action.
Gender inclusion and the proposed review system
It would apply in case of an election in which three-fifths of the members of the Executive Committee were of a particular gender. If this happened, the office bearer positions for which a person of a different gender had secured second highest number of votes would be up for review. Among those who stood second, the one with the highest number of votes would be appointed to the post for which they had contested.
Although the review would be used to substitute a popularly elected candidate, it could guarantee a diverse Executive Committee, and importantly, an approachable one, especially in relation to cases of ragging and sexual harassment.
The CRC believed that ensuring plurality (of opinion) and diversity (in composition) would be a step towards incentivising student participation in self-governance in the NLUs and that different gender perspectives would be invaluable to decision making.
What student governance can do to promote inclusion
Student government however, should also help students who are at an inherent disadvantage when they start at college, by virtue of cultural or other factors that have a potentially disabling effect. For instance, unfamiliarity with written or spoken English can disengage students from learning, especially as it is accompanied by the elitist environments at the NLUs. Student governments should take affirmative action to create support systems to help students overcome these basic barriers to integration into the law school experience.
An alumnus who recently visited NALSAR spoke about the experience of coming from a Tamil-speaking background. During the first year, the alumnus and some others from the same background, found it extremely difficult to understand the teaching. Some senior students organised preparatory sessions to help them with the language and the subjects that were part of the academic curriculum. Not attending these classes was not an option. If the first year students skipped these sessions, the senior ones would come searching, even if they were outside the campus. Eventually, they passed in all the subjects and saw the value in this exercise.
Paaras Pandey is an undergraduate student in his final year at Nalsar.