In what is being considered a ‘resounding victory’ for the students’ fraternity at the South Asian University (SAU) in New Delhi, the Delhi High Court on Thursday quashed an order issued by the varsity to expel a student for alleged indiscipline stating, “decision cannot sustain scrutiny law.”
The court granted relief to the student, “The manner in which SAU proceeded against the petitioner (student) is completely alien to the stipulated procedure contained in the rules and regulations of SAU.”
It further stated, “The expulsion decision is also in stark contravention of most elementary principles of natural justice and fair play. It was a sham, with a prima facie pre-determined intent to expel the petitioners from the university rolls.”
In a detailed 58-page judgment, the single-judge bench of Justice C Hari Shankar examined SAU’s response to the plea of student Apoorva Yarabhally.
The court noted that the varsity inadvertently admitted that the High Powered Committee (HPC), which assessed the students’ case, conducted the hearing on January 13, 2023, without the presence of the ‘complainants and the witnesses’ who supported the complaints made by Yarabhally.
The High Court further observed that the HPC heard the complainants in the absence of the petitioner on January 27, 2023, and recorded the statements of the witnesses on January 29, 2023, who “deposed in favor of the complainant” and such a procedure is ‘completely unknown to law.”
“SAW was determined to expel the petitioner from its rolls. There is no other explanation for SAU not providing to the petitioner copies of the complainants and the witnesses who supported the complaint behind the back of the petitioner and proceeding to rely on the said material against her.”
Justice Shankar also observed that Yarabhally’s plea is maintainable as SAU is a public institution and imparts function that is- education and therefore, expelling her is, ‘curtailing her right to education.’
Apoorva Yarabhally, 27, a student of Masters of Law at SAU was expelled from the varsity in September 2022 along with other students, following the protests seeking an increase in the scholarship stipend against a cut in scholarship for Masters’ students.
The months-long protest ended in December 2022, with vacations announced but the admiration’s high-handedness didn’t end with that. They not only expelled Yarabhally but also forced her to vacate the hostel.
Yarabhally approached the Delhi High Court on December 9, 2022, and filed a complaint against the varsity citing institutional harassment, unjust expulsion, and asking her to vacate the hostel which further forced her to discontinue the studies.
She maintained in the case that the decision of her expulsion had been taken in violation of the university’s law.
Her counsel, Advocate Abhik Chimni also argued on the aspect of maintainability and availability of immunity to the university rejecting SAU’s argument that ‘it is immune to be questioned under Indian law as the institution is maintained collectively by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations’ and ‘entitled to immunity as per the SAU statute, Preamble of SAU rules, UN Act and Gazette notifications by the Ministry of External Affairs.’
Chimni submitted, “Section 4(1) and (2)21 of the SAU act itself clarifies that the University is capable of being sued.”
The high court’s order has come as a ray of hope for Yarabhally, who had rented a space, a week ago in Delhi in the hope of resuming her studies after a long tiring struggle for justice for herself and her friends, as she was forced to leave the campus following expulsion.
Relieved Yarabhally said, “If it was not for the support of my parents, my friends, especially Ammar’s resilience in fighting for life, and everyone who stood for me during this hard time, I don’t know if I would have done it all one my own, let alone win against such a vicious institutionalized harassment.”
While speaking with Maktoob Yarabhally kept referring to the case of Ammar Ahmad, another expelled first-year MA Sociology student at SAU who during administration’s high handedness had had seizures and became unconscious and ended up in hospital, where he suffered a cardiac arrest. Even after all these years, Ammar is struggling for life and yet to recover mentally and physically.
Yarabhally said, “More than myself, I am happy about Ammar as it was the first time his case came in front of the court. Even the judgment has a mention of his case.”
“This can be the start of another legal victory, we can take up Ammar’s case and it can also receive positive judicial attention and we can make the administration accountable for its condition,” she said.
Ammar’s case, in person, has impacted Yarabhally not only physically but mentally as she remained distressed about the cost of treatment Ammar would have to be provided.
“It is so personal for me. How could we let our friend die in front of our eyes at the behest of the university? He was rusticated for fighting for a just cause that too, peacefully. He was rusticated and remained in the ICU for the longest time with no one from the administration visiting or consoling his family,”’said the international law student.
“This is a resounding victory for everyone who believes in peaceful dissent and fight for what is rightfully theirs. I am happy for his judgment as it can be a precedent for Ammar’s case and he will get justice,” she added.
This entire fight for justice was tiring and long for Yarabhally but she has received ‘unflinching’ support from her family and friends, especially from her mother Meenakshi Yarbhally, who teaches Mathematics to children with special needs in a non-formal setup.
Yarabhally M, in a mail written on March 9, 2023, as a response to receiving the speed post sent by the SAU administration to her informing of Apoorva’s expulsion from the college, she wrote, “I believe that the intention of the letter was to shift the responsibility of the university towards our daughter and to infantilize her by seeking our intervention. But I would like to make it clear that our daughter has our unflinching support in her fight against the arbitrary and illegal disciplinary actions against all the students.”
She through the letter extended her unwavering solidarity to all the protesting students stating that ‘they all are at the receiving end of the draconian administration’ and that if the varsity continues ‘attacking the… student community’, she would personally join in the protests by the students.
She said, “I am proud of her and from the very beginning I knew Apoorva was fighting for a just cause along with other students and it has also been proved by the court’s order.”
“I hope this becomes the beginning of the victory for other students,” she added.