Why SBA Election Mandates Must Reflect A Larger Moral Responsibility To The Student Community
This piece is written by Thangminlal Lalcha Haokip
The recent incidents on our campus have led us to question all the varied aspects of our law school life including our academics, socials, physical and mental health, and our groupings based on caste, class, sex and political leaning. These issues cannot be said to have been non-existent in previous years or even decades, but like every realization for self-introspection and change, it needed a spark. Unfortunately for us it came at the cost of a fellow student’s life -Kanishk Bharti.
Much has been said, much has been realized and learnt, we have all at least morally taken the blame for the lack of collective responsibility and for the failure to prevent such an irreparable and irreplaceable loss. However, moral self-blaming may not result in any change if there is no assertion from the SBA office bearers to guide and encourage the student community to turn our realization and learning into action.
I believe that in Law School, we are all partners in our learning of the law and of life throughout our five-year sojourn on campus. Hence, it is vital that we take some lessons from the recent incidents and help create an inclusive atmosphere which embraces the diversity that Law School bestows upon us.
I would like to point out three challenges that, in my humble opinion, are essential for us to take cognizance and to challenge ourselves if we want to create a better campus environment.
First, to stop seeing ourselves as assets and liabilities. There is an unwritten rule; a mark that all of us know when we see one – a sense of seeing our fellow students or seniors as assets or a liabilities. That befriending a senior of the same class (economic or political) or caste is an asset because he/she will help you in your academics, moots, debates or otherwise. What is even more insidious is the practice of excluding others because they can’t contribute to your academic persona. We can see this play out in the committee set-ups (interviews) and allotment of mentors based on CLAT ranks. In other words, an unwritten circle has been drawn to keep some in and some out, based on what people call ‘merit’, though merit forms merely a part of what is considered along with a lot of extraneous factors.
My problem with this is not the argument for merit but the wall it creates that prevents each of us from sharing our very human experiences and stories that could inspire others, and could be a lesson to our roommate or to the person across the dining table. In seeing ourselves as assets and liabilities, we deprive ourselves of one of the best experiences that Law School can offer – ‘diversity’ and the opportunity to learn from one another’s human experiences.
As students aspiring to be in the field of law and working towards solving human and legal conflicts, I believe it is in our best interest to share the varied human experiences that our fellow students bring to Law School, which is also the demand of our profession. Therefore, it is important that we see all of us as assets in our learning process. I believe that’s where our learning should begin.
Second, the criticism of mobocracy in the classroom and its practice in the campus environment. As many of you, I too have entered Law School with a certain political leaning. If not, we at-least learn to pick political allegiances within few trimesters in the college. Choosing an allegiance of political thought only represents a good understanding of ourselves and only makes us human. In Aristotle’s words – ‘Man/Woman is a political animal’. Hence, it is only befitting that we find our space of political thought. My only concern however is: Where do our political allegiances end and our humane or moral obligations begin?
A student accused of a sexual harassment is subjected to ostracization on campus and students who continue to associate as friends with such person are address as ‘sexual offender sympathisers’ and beyond that a political vendetta is undertaken among students to bar individuals from association with the accused. Students have exercised mobocracy before the law is led to try the accused.
Interestingly, we have all criticized and trampled at mobocracy within the four walls of the classroom during jurisprudence discussions. Yet we find it to be an acceptable form of social sanction. Sexual harassment is a serious criminal offence and as such the law must be enforced strictly, the guilty must find no space for liberty against the provision of the SHARIC code. The survivor must be protected and helped but at the same time the accused must find place to breath, or else we become no different from an ignorant mob lusting for vengeance. We must exercise restraint and let the law take charge, for we are neither morally justified nor legally right to pass our moral judgement against an accused, nor do we further the cause of justice.
Unfortunately, LawSchool accepts out-casting as a legitimate form of punishment. It is a shame to know that the premier Law School in the country practices out-casting as a form of punishment without realizing that the practice of out-casting a person as a form of punishment is a castiest practice. The practice is so well embedded in our very own belief and cultural practices that we have failed to look into our very own prejudices. This must be the time to challenge our own thoughts on the subject. This must be the time to self-introspect on the way we treat our fellow students.
As a subset to the above observation, it is essential to note, what becomes of a situation when the mob becomes selective of their victims. Why has the mob chosen certain persons as sacrifices for justice, and not others who are accused likewise and, in some cases, even more grievous. Why has the mob let go of accused belonging to their own class and caste (which ties in to my first point)? Who scrutinized victims to be shamed and named in public? What becomes of justice and equity when a group decides to pin point individuals and mete out its version of justice on the crude altar of indignance?
I’m not pointing fingers at any groups or individuals, but I am trying to question the very principles we apply, the double standards we apply in our own judgment. It is not the act of questioning the conducts of the accused that concerns me, but of our treatment of the accused.
Punishing an accused legally for an offence in accordance with law is within our right and permitted by the criminal law but out-casting such persons is a casteist act which I vehemently condemn. The criminal law jurisprudence is surfeit with reasons for departing from the retributive model of justice to a restorative and rehabilitative one; I think we should also move along with it. The former represents the imprisonment of the body but the latter frees both the souls of the survivor and the accused.
Third, the unforgiving nature of our campus environment, can we re-create it? Don’t we all love elections? Law School elections have had their own share of drama, propaganda, finger-pointing and, especially, employment of agents to dig up the past of candidates – beginning from their conduct during their fresher party in the first year to their last breakup. Fun to discuss and gossip about; what else does one do when the trees and walls on campus don’t talk back to you and the dogs at Chetta stop wagging their tails around you for biscuits. Law School walls have ears, yet we all continue our love for gossip. Here is another election and the gossips is already irresistible.
A few years ago, a candidate removed himself from the election race when his lower caste status was used against him. A year later, the electorate voted based on the region the candidate came from. So, what have we in store for this election? I hope neither.
I believe whatever the past stories of our candidates have been on campus, the electorate ‘student community’ must exercise restraint to paint the candidate based on their past conduct, otherwise we only imprison them to their past identity and refuse to let them grow as individuals and as leaders. All of us have the moral duty to shape our representatives and thereby benefit as a community through their development. All of us must embody the duty to forgive. A story in the Bible succinctly illustrate this point:
A Jewish woman who committed adultery was thrown at Jesus’ feet by the Pharishee (Early Jewish priest) to judge her according to the ‘Law of Moses’ (Ten commandments) which reads that the punishment for adultery is ‘to be stoned to dead’. The teacher – Jesus – replied, – “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her”.
Who among us is without sin or wrong? Who among us have not been forgiven or have not forgiven others? We have to clean the sawdust in our eyes before we point at our neighbours’ eyes. I hope we are able to forgive any person who commits any offence and allow them to forgive themselves and grow as individuals. I hope we stop pointing out the past conduct of our candidates and appreciate them for what they have become and support them for what they wish to change. I hope we become forgivers, as we are forgiven.
Similarly, I hope that our candidates also reflect upon the need for developing a positive campus environment. I hope their mandates are not restricted to academic reforms but rather representation of a larger moral obligation to change the moral tone of the campus atmosphere and interaction. This may not be the demand of the electorate but it is the demand of the times. The recent incidents and mistakes must find no place in our future environment. They must be buried. I hope the electorate supports the candidate who looks ahead and is not busy fixing the mistakes of the past.
Law School is a small place; only a three-feet pathway connects our entire campus and we pass by both our friends and foes more than three times a day for half a decade of our lives. Therefore, without a positive student community set-up, we always run the risk of allowing someone to suffer in silence but with it we better our own self. Kanishk’s suicide must be the end of our lack of moral responsibility towards our fellow students.
I write this not to provide solution because I don’t have one but as a reminder to the office bearers as well as the student community to take a pause and self-introspect about the conducts and practices that we have set up on campus. I believe if we take this first step, we would have found solutions suitable for all of us.