On 11th July 2017, a Delhi High Court bench comprising Justices Siddharth Mridul and Najmi Waziri made an acute oral observation on the failure of the Indian education system as a whole, while hearing the Supreme Court plea initiated in September 2016, regarding Sushant Rohilla’s alleged suicide. On the matter, which was transferred to the Delhi HC in March 2017, the bench made a scathing remark: “It (the education system) is completely dehumanised. It is a machine. The human element has been completely taken out. The contact between teacher and student is perfunctory… We seem to be mass producing clones… You must conform at all costs, else retribution is swift.”
The bench also remarked directly upon Amity Law University’s “element of callousness” in handling the sensitive issue, as Rohilla was a third-year student there, barred from sitting in the semester examinations due to low attendance. “The student reached out to you. He cried out for help. But did you respond?” the court asked of the varsity, which continued to defend its attendance norms as a basic system of checks and balances meant to establish discipline. This system, however, is not above offering assistance to its students and accommodating improvements where necessary, Amity also claimed. The varsity is affiliated to Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (GGSIPU), which was given the last chance to file an affidavit recording its stance on the subject.
Sushant Rohilla’s classmates took to social media with a fervour post his death, alleging his harassment and charging the teachers with apathy and negligence. So far, the outrage fuelled online has caused two of the professors to resign. Most significantly, it was a letter written by Raghav Sharma, another final year student of Amity and a close friend of Rohilla, to the then CJI TS Thakur, which caused this PIL to be instituted in court. In the letter, Sharma puts the blame squarely upon the shoulders of the Amity authorities, citing reasons including medical issues which first prevented Rohilla from attending the classes, leading to his lack of attendance, then a severe depression at being barred from the exams, and all of it culminating in a suicide by hanging, at his own house on 10th August 2016.
The court appointed amicus curiae has intervened after examining a “shocking” status report filed by the Delhi Police, which not only did not consider the examination of any person necessary with regard to the complaint but also insinuated that the suicide note may not have been written by Rohilla himself. Unconvinced, the court has asked for a transfer of the “compromised” investigation, to be monitored by the Deputy Commissioner of Police (South Delhi). The DCP must now file a detailed probe report before the next hearing on 8th August 2017.
So far, all the elements in the case seem to be working against Amity and the varsity’s officials involved. But most importantly, the court’s statement takes into account what the current education system and inhumane red-tapism tend to leave out—the worth of a student’s life. It is an essential point raised, and one which directly concerns all students pursuing or hoping to pursue a higher education in the country. Minimum attendance as a pre-requisite for marks and entry to exam halls has been a matter of much discontent and protests in the last few years in the University of Delhi (DU) too, with ECA and Sports quota students especially crying foul. Those against the mandate argue about the injustice of having to sit in class, even when unable to, for reasons ranging from serious health issues to a simple lack of interest in certain lectures. University students, after all, are responsible adults in the making. Why must they be robbed of the autonomy to choose and to make the simple decision of which classes to attend, and which to skip out? Only time will tell what the verdict on Rohilla’s case shall be, yet the court has made a vital statement in the initial hearing itself, giving hopes to the entire student community.
Image credits: Hindustan Times