A Period Drama.
This article has been written by Darsan Guruvayurappan (Batch of 2023) in his capacity as the SBA President. The cover illustration is by Anshita Agrawal (Batch of 2023) and the in-text illustration is made by Nidhi Agrawal (Batch of 2026).
Please note, this piece is regarding the process of how period leaves were obtained. It is not about the qualitative experience of menstruating. The Quirk Team will be doing a follow-up piece including the perspectives and testimonials of menstruators on campus who have faced issues regarding period leaves and periods in general.
The demand for period leaves is one that I’ve seen articulated by students since my first year. In multiple general body meetings, I’ve seen students raise the need for better institutional and academic support for those menstruating. Without fail, the concerns raised would receive overwhelming support in the form of vigorous desk-thumps, loud cheers, and the occasional general body resolution. Yet, in my past 4 years at law school, I have not seen any significant progress towards achieving this goal. However, following a several-months long campaign, the NLS UG administration finally recognised periods as a valid ground for obtaining medical leave. This piece serves two purposes: first, to create an institutional record of how this outcome was reached; and second, to serve as a reminder to the student bodies at NLS and other institutions that we can still be the drivers of institutional change.
It was somewhere around October that I began exploring ways in which we could petition for period leaves. Although NLS relaxed its attendance requirements to 75% a couple of years ago, that also came with a removal of attendance make-up. Although everybody could now freely miss up to 25% of the classes for extracurriculars, those who don't menstruate can use this entire leeway to partake in extracurricular activities or just chill. Those menstruating, on the other hand, have to burn a big chunk of their 25% just having to deal with their periods. Juggling law school, with all its academic, extra-curricular, and social commitments is a massive task in itself; doing these things while also going through painful periods and no academic or other concessions is simply a herculean demand. Period leaves, therefore, are absolutely necessary to ensure that University opportunities are equitably accessible to all students.
The most obvious way to go about this, of course, was to push for change to the AER. This, however, would have been the most convoluted way to tackle this problem, simply because of the numerous bureaucratic roadblocks that we would inevitably encounter. We’d have to convince the Registrar, UGC, UGC-C, VC, SWO, EC, AC and the entire alphabet soup of the NLS administrative machinery. My initial informal attempts at shopping this idea with the officials weren’t too encouraging either and I was forced to drop this. The next step was to see if we could shoehorn this into the existing regulations somehow. After several hours of painstakingly poring over the AER, we realised two things: first, that poring over the AER is a terrible way to spend a Sunday; second, and more important, that the AER had several nice holes in its definitions that we could weasel our way into. Under the AER, a student is required to maintain 75% attendance in each course; however, this requirement is reduced to 66% in the case of bereavements in the family, or ‘medical grounds’. The latter term, thankfully, was undefined, and the only requirements for claiming under medical grounds are a) a doctor’s certificate, and b) the university’s satisfaction that the student was incapacitated from attending courses. The lack of a definition meant that a clarificatory university notification could introduce period leaves as a ground, without having to go through the aforementioned alphabet soup.
Following this discovery, we emailed the UGC-Chairperson, Prof. Saurabh Bhattacherjee, outlining the above (and other) arguments and asking for the UGC’s decision on the matter. With that said, we were ready to dig in and prepare for long, protracted discussions on the policy. It took a fortnight (and a few informal discussions), before we received a reply that the UGC had resolved that "medical ground’ in AER 2020 covers menstrual leave and all the norms applicable to 'medical ground' under Rule III.6 of the AER 2020 shall also apply to a case of menstrual leave." I was shocked, to say the least; but I was happy that they had agreed (though a teensy bit disappointed at having to throw away all the fun one-liners I’d thought of using in in-person discussions).
Mind you, by now it had already been around a month and a half since the initial plans. After this, I quickly shot back a response profusely thanking them for the decision, and sought a few implementational details of the same. From what I’d heard, the college nurse and doctor were not entirely on board with the idea of menstrual leaves, and I requested that sensitisation be conducted, and a clear procedure be laid down to avail period leaves. Alas, before any of this could be implemented, Omicron hit Bangalore and we were all unceremoniously forced back to our hometowns. Another month later, we returned to college, and students began applying under the new notification.
Unfortunately, my initial worries came true, and complaints began to pour in that the University doctor was refusing to issue certificates to students, and was simply prescribing medicines and recommending that students not miss classes. This resulted in a fresh round of discussions, where we suggested ways to fix the problems. Once again, the UGC was supportive and met with the doctor, where they arrived at some kind of a settlement regarding the certification he was expected to do. Despite this, I’ve received a few more complaints about the doctor refusing to issue certificates. The doctor’s complaint apparently was that students would misuse such provisions. I think such arguments are simply unacceptable in this day and age. You cannot deny a provision simply because there exists the possibility of abuse. A person might experience period pain for 2 days a month, across 3 months, would result in them missing around 12 hours per course. The concession granted here is of barely 5 hours of class in a particular course; a significant benefit, but hardly something that can be meaningfully abused. I must admit that the lack of sensitive healthcare providers in college is a significant roadblock in the implementation of the policy; nonetheless, I am confident that the UGC and the higher levels of the University administration will resolve this issue going forward.
That said, there is still a lot of scope for improving the current implementation. I must note that the UGC has been proactive in fixing the other issues that came up, including things like making sure that the forms are gender-inclusive and sensitising the staff. The present notification was issued by the Undergraduate Council, and so doesn’t automatically apply to the MPP and LLM batches. The MPP Student Council is taking this up with their administration, and we’ll have to figure out how to get the other batch coordinators to issue similar notifications. Additionally, going under the medical grounds route means that students have to jump through several procedural hoops every time they want to claim the leave. Going forward, it would be better to move away from a certification process to one of self-reporting, to make the process easier. Additionally, using medical leaves for this purpose also means that those who menstruate might find it difficult in case they face more serious medical issues later. Alas, this can only be fixed if we push for an AER amendment, or get the VC to issue a broader notification which are things future SBAs can take up. Furthermore, we must keep in mind that what a notification can giveth, a notification can also taketh away. I have no idea if future UGCs will be as supportive, and the student body will have to actively ensure that there’s no backsliding.
At a larger level, I think there needs to be a lot more sensitisation around issues of menstrual health. In the past, students have experienced significant hostility while undergoing their periods. I think the following account captures the sentiment a lot better than I can:
I once started menstruating while sitting in the exam hall during an end-term. Forget an MFA, I was not even allowed to go out to get a sanitary pad from my bag - and was not provided a pain killer like Meftal. I sat there for three hours, bleeding through my clothes, in immense pain due to cramps, and also trying to write an exam. Compared to that dehumanising experience, the approval of period leaves by the administration, acknowledging the pain menstruation can cause, gives me hope greater inclusivity and sensitivity in dealing with such incidents - even if we have some way to go in terms of its better implementation.
I think this shows that there’s still a long way for us to go. Nonetheless, this experience shows that it is still very much possible for students to push for significant institutional changes. As far as I know, NLS is one of the first law schools to officially recognise period leaves, and this is simply building upon the progressive ideals that the university has always stood for. Hopefully, other student bodies can push for similar changes to be enacted in their universities. I am fully aware that this change was made possible only due to the remarkable professors we have on board, and the willingness of the administration to tackle these issues head on. I am certain that there will always be those who share similar sentiments elsewhere, and I believe that student representatives can play a big role in shaping these outcomes.
With NLS increasing its intake and renewing its commitment to improving diversity, I am hopeful that policies like this will have a positive impact on students’ educational outcomes. Admittedly, we have been at loggerheads with the administration numerous times over the past year; nonetheless, developments such as this shows that at the end of the day, the students and administration can always work together to make the University a better place for everybody.
 One of the most important things I learned is that the University administration is not a monolith; rather it consists of numerous individuals with their own beliefs and ideas that usually communicate with each other (but often don’t). This becomes significant when you need to figure out who exactly you should direct your annoyance to for an issue.