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Egalitarian ethic? Delhi's National Law varsity 'violates' labour laws, human rights

By Vidushi Prajapati, Ekta Tomar, Sandeep Pandey*
What is the obligation of an academic community, especially in a law school, when sanitation workers on campus, who have been working since its inception in 2008, are removed by the National Law University (NLU), Delhi, on the pretext of changing the contractor as required by an audit objection?
Since the workers were initially hired on contractual basis rather than being kept on a permanent roll despite the indispensable nature of their invested labour to keep university functioning, a patent argument through which the institutions justify their acts is that they are “not responsible” towards such workers as they are not their direct employers.
Right from the outset, the University took frequent refuge under the excuse that only direct payment of salary is a test of ascertaining the employer-employee relationship. It declared the demand of workers seeking employment as illegal, while being oblivious of the gross illegalities at its end such as non-existence of a formal written contract with the erstwhile contractors (WhiteFox Support Services and Golden Expert Services) and more importantly continuous renewal of such a contract for 12 odd years (Audit Objection, 2015 CAG Report).
The case of wrongful removal of Safai Karamcharis is a perfect example of the dual character of bourgeois spaces such as the law university where, under the garb of being the upholder of egalitarian principles, it has time and again committed labour laws and human rights violations.
Ironically, the registrar in a letter addressed to the Office of Minister of Labour and Employment of Delhi government states, “Since the University is a Law University and teaches its students the social aspect of law also, the administration impressed upon the contractor to ensure that nobody already employed by the previous contractor gets unemployed.”
Such premiere institutions have undoubtedly monopolized spaces which guarantee absolute protection to class bias and privilege. The entrance examinations aptly showcase the intention of allowing only a certain class of students while depriving the downtrodden, leaving them in the lurch to fend for themselves, thereby inevitably making the underprivileged feel that they weren’t born for such spaces be it in the form of students or workers.
While the middle class is known for recusing itself in situations which demand a strong dissenting voice such as the case of mass unemployment of these workers who put in their sweat and blood in laying the foundation of this university, the intelligentsia and the academia who is aware of the systemic problem of widespread poverty, unemployment, hunger and malnutrition amongst the working class have also been consistently turning a blind eye towards such issues. They don't want to be seen taking sides in a 'controversial' issue.
Most, dominated by status quo-ist tendency, would tend to think that administration must be right and must be acting within the confines of law and following all rules scrupulously, in the process failing to understand that how often by virtue of its stature, it is able to get away conveniently without having to follow the law and more importantly, the limitations of law itself.
Despite having a higher moral duty to discharge on account of being more aware and having various resources at disposal, the academia comprising of - students, researchers, faculty and administration of this esteemed university has failed massively in widening space for exhaustive discussions and debates premised on a dialectical outlook on a range of social issues culminating in the class based structure of the society.
NLU Safai Karmacharis' protest against suspension in Feb 2020
In contrast, the systematic culture of silence maintained over issues plaguing the oppressed are kept at bay. The discussion on such issues remains confined to conferences organized within four walls of a room. The crucial role played by groundwork which establishes a connect with the masses continues to remain unrecognized till date.
Unless something directly affects their interest, elites are immune to what goes on around them. Parents, teachers and administration keep advising their students to concentrate on studies in order to successfully complete their degree so that they can get ensconced. Careerist thinking dominates the middle-class mindset. They are averse to taking risks, especially if it can cause harm to their material well being.
For law students, it is imperative that no law of land is violated if they believe that the purpose of their vocation is to uphold justice
Therefore, with the backing of such powerful institutions such as family, academia and administration, the students studying in premier institutions hardly find the need to think about the broken and dilapidated system they are thriving in unlike the impoverished who are being continuously oppressed and have no choice but to resist. Dripping with self-interest, the students choose to limit their actions to either indifference or pity when they are actually capable of holding systems accountable.
But if one honestly examines the purpose of our academic pursuits, one is bound to question our self-serving attitude. A human being doesn't live in isolation. S(he) is a social being and part of the society, well being of which is necessary for the individual wellness. 
In fact, the ideal state is complete harmony among different states of human living – individual, family, society and nature. If either of them gets disbalanced, the disturbances are bound to affect the others.
Hence if the purpose of life in general and our academic activity, in particular, is to create a better society devoid of inequality then it becomes impossible for us to ignore the distress of human beings around us just like it would be difficult for us to ignore an ill person in our family.
An individualized way of thinking is as deadly as oppression itself. It is time that we observe the sufferers struggling around us from an objective lens, make efforts for understanding the root cause of issues, understand the unflinching character of dissent and raise our voice against any injustice around us, even if one has to pay a price for it.
For law students, it becomes even more imperative that no law of land is violated if they believe that the purpose of their vocation is to uphold justice and not just make a career for themselves. The knowledge that they are acquiring is not meant to be archived, but to be used when the time demands. And one has to start from the immediate surrounding.
When knowledge doesn’t translate into pure, rational and powerful action, a question must be put on the pedagogy. There can be no better internship opportunity for law students than to examine the application of laws on their campus.
Those who are involved will come out with an enriched experience and as more sensitised individuals who'll henceforth put in their efforts to improve their surroundings so that nobody's rights are violated. Those who'll shut their eyes to the injustice will live in cocoons most of their lives maybe with material opulence but poorer in emotional satisfaction which one derives from the application of one's knowledge and skills for the betterment of larger society.
The academic community should have in fact played a more active role in resolving this crisis in a more innovative way taking human consciousness to a higher level. For example, a group of professors and students came together to form a Workers' Cooperative on Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur campus when a similar problem arose in the early 1990s. The workers' cooperative is still functional on the IIT Kanpur campus for garbage collection work.
We hope that academic community of National Law University, Delhi, would follow the vision and mission of National Academy of Legal Studies And Research  (NALSAR), Hyderabad, from where its current Vice-Chancellor came and is credited with founding both institutions of eminence in law education. 
The Vision stated on the front wall of the main building of the NALSAR University of Law is “To bridge the divide between law and justice; support the most marginalised and excluded in their struggles and advocate for the rights of all.” The Mission is “To undertake the activities of the University in such a manner as to advocate social justice.”
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*Vidushi Prajapati and Ekta Tomar are 4th year LLB students at National Law University (NLU), Delhi; Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay award winning social activist, is visiting faculty at NLU, Delhi, for the current semester

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