“In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
This article is not just about the stray dogs that live at National Law University, Delhi, anymore. The purpose of this piece is to help us realise the consequences of not questioning abuse of authority for a fairly long period of time. In the fairly short history of our University, one thing that has clearly stood out is our lack of a cohesive student body. We have accepted nearly everything that the authorities have ordered, no questions asked, simply because we were able to find loopholes in the rules or we believed it was not worth it to actually try to reason with the authorities. The content of these restrictions has only become all encompassing and a simple reading of the earlier post about dogs and Unreal Notices illustrate how banal the notices have gotten with time. The recent stand of the administration has pushed the students to finally put their feet down and ask for an end to the arbitrariness. This article attempts to detail how the issue of the dogs was handled and the problems such an approach presents for us.
After the notice with regard to the dogs was issued, I immediately got in touch with a member of the Animal Welfare Board of India who informed me that the University’s steps were not only cruel and intolerant but also illegal. She suggested that we approach the Vice Chancellor with the relevant laws and inform him of the illegality of the University’s actions. In case he refused to listen to us, she offered to intervene on behalf of the AWBI. After thinking about the repercussions of such an approach, I spoke to a few faculty members who suggested that it was important to constructively engage with the authorities on issues like this.
Immediately, we formed a group of concerned students to Save the Dogs. This group of nearly 15 people met as frequently as needed to determine the best course of action. We decided to approach the Vice Chancellor with a request for a hearing before the entire faculty and anyone else who had problems with the dogs staying on campus. At this hearing, we would put forth the arguments about the right of the dogs to remain on campus and figure out workable solutions to the problems faced by people that did not require taking away the only place the dogs have known as a home. The idea was to put forth the idea of tolerance and hopefully even acceptance of our four legged friends. If this was denied, the plan was to approach each and every faculty member, explain our stand to them and convince a majority of them to sign a waiver. We researched all relevant legal provisions and collected judgments on stray dogs. It was decided that only two or three students would meet the VC about this as any number greater than that can be perceived as a serious challenge to the Sovereign’s authority.
Renuka persevered for over a week to get two minutes of the VC’s time. When he finally met the students, he had no recollection of the notice and asked the students to meet him in a few days. This was a shock. After an emergency meeting, it was decided to change the strategy from questioning the actions of the University to merely getting permission to allow the dogs to stay on campus. Meanwhile, signatures were taken from students of all the five batches were taken in order to substantiate our claim that a majority of the students did not have any problems with the dogs. An application was carefully drafted and signed by the VC a few days later which terms the dogs on campus as “community dogs” and allows the students to keep them on campus. There was no argument about animal welfare or animal rights but the VC said that he could not convince the kids these days and agreed to what we had asked for. He also promptly informed the students how hazardous dog fur can be for human health. A number of us termed this a “victory” prompting an immediate change in the name of the Whatsapp group created for this purpose from “Save the Dogs” to “Saved the Dogs”.
I was present for every one of these meetings and I agreed with the change in strategy that required us to mellow our stance down. I agreed because I believed that the safety of the dogs was of utmost importance and the engagement with animal issues that I was hoping for could be achieved at a later point in time. This happened on April 28. It’s been over two weeks since that day and nothing much has changed except that we have one less dog on campus. The semester will end in less than a month and by the time the next one begins, I would be gone and most of you would have forgotten the notice issued by the VC of a premier law school in the country that advised students to refrain from performing their fundamental duty under the Constitution of India, that is to show compassion towards other living creatures (Article 51A(g)).
It is important to note that during this entire period, the dogs kept coming back to the University. This prompted some people to question the need for official permission because the dogs were de facto on campus. These kind of arguments are the product of the “let’s find the loophole” approach. Fortunately, most of us agreed that this uncertainty could lead to a situation where the MCD officials would be called one random day, when lesser number of students are around, to pick up the dogs and take them away. There is no denying that this signed permission from the VC is a small step in the right direction. However, every single time I look at the permission, I am reminded of how we had to ask for the VC’s permission for something that was the existing law in our country in the first place.
This brings me back to where I started. We have become a University where we dare not ask for our rights. All those lectures in Law and Poverty classes explaining the difference between the “rights based approach” and the “welfare approach” and how the former is more empowering than the latter seem hollow in light of our approach towards the realization of our own rights. The biggest irony is that we are law students who are expected to venture into the outside world and fight to protect the rights of others.
We have reached a point where the thought of “constructive engagement” with the authorities on issues of importance for students is seen as “radical” and even “rebellious” behaviour and more “rational and practical” individuals jump in to warn us of the consequences of our demand for basic freedoms. We define “practicality” as taking everything lying down and just getting through the five years without causing so much as an annoyance to the authorities. We’ve truly internalised “a bird in hand is better than two in the bush” and unlike Oliver Twist, we cannot ask for more. The only reasonable explanation can be that as soon as we get our degrees at Vigyan Bhawan, we will be infused with magical abilities to enable us to stand for what is right and actually become “socially relevant lawyers”.
I understand the importance of reasonable rules and regulations formed to maintain discipline in the University. But since when did a demand for basic freedoms become synonymous with a “war against established structures of authority”? I think it is time we start questioning what we have let this place do to us. Were we always this afraid of asking for what is rightfully ours? Every time someone says that we should have a rights based approach, the majority says that the time is not right. To those people, here’s a quote from one of my favourite movies, The Great Debaters: “Well, would you kindly tell me when that day is gonna come? Is it going to come tomorrow? Is it going to come next week? In a hundred years? Never? No, the time for justice, the time for freedom, the time for equality is always, is always right now.”
Malavika Parthasarathy, Renuka Rajan, Nayantara, Aarti Bhavana, Somil, Arshu, Devanshu, Gale Andrew, Jagata, Linesh, Pearlita, Rishika Sahgal, Shweta Kabra and Apoorva are involved in the “Save the dogs” campaign. Express your support by leaving a comment or better still join them.
 Dobby (the tiny black one) was moved to a foster home after we realised that the University was no longer a safe space for him.