NLU Jodhpur alumni and students protest homophobic teaching materials

Current VI semester undergraduate students of the University pursuing the ‘Sociology – III Law and Society’ course, at the National Law University Jodhpur were sent outright homophobic content purportedly as essential reading (details of the readings are in the letter below). The material presented outdated notions of homosexuality. When the faculty member was challenged via email by a student, she said she had shared it to encourage debate and present one side of the prevailing views on homosexuality. However, the material was sent without providing any such context. The faculty committed that she would be sending updated material presenting sociological developments on the subject in the coming few days. However, instead of doing so, she delegated her responsibility to the student who had written to her, a move that can only be interpreted as reprisal.

The interim student body wrote to the Vice Chancellor on the issue. 150 alumni members also wrote to the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor and General Council of NLU-J asking for disciplinary action against the faculty member, an external resource person to teach the subject, and review of the course curriculum.

This is the letter

Dear Dr. Saxena and Members of the General Council,

We, the undersigned alumni of National Law University, Jodhpur, much to our consternation, have learnt that current VI semester undergraduate students of the University pursuing the ‘Sociology – III Law and Society’ course were sent outright homophobic content purportedly as essential reading by Dr. Asha Bhandari, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Member, Academic Council, on April 11, 2020. On a perusal of the content, it is evident that the material sent by Dr. Bhandari is unscientific, uncritical, based on outdated notions of homosexuality, perpetuates dangerous stereotypes, and legitimizes prejudice against the LGBTIQ community. As you would all agree, this is unacceptable in any institute of learning, much less in one that prides itself on being a premier national law school.

By way of an example, one of the articles (ostensibly an outdated, sparsely footnoted, poorly researched chapter from an unnamed thesis), that forms part of the essential reading terms homosexuality as a “disorder” and “aims to identify the factors behind homosexual orientation.” The article states “[m]any beliefs that it is a mental disease, few believe that homosexuals are sexually obsessive beast with filthy mindset and inhumane sexual behaviour. Many belief that homosexuality is not a result of nature, but an outcome of how a person is nurtured.” The author goes on to exhort that “experts as well as the common man” hold “external factors” including “weak masculine identity, sexual abuse, sexual addiction, loss of local moral order” among others as “responsible for causing homosexual orientation in a person”. The article lists out various “implications” of homosexuality including “The homosexuals in order to express their love and fulfill their sexual desire adapt sexual practices which are unsafe (without any precautions) and not normal in nature.” The author concludes by suggesting ways of “healing homsexual attraction and behaviour”.

It is pertinent to note that the only other assigned reading on homosexuality by Dr. Bhandari, though less brazen, also crouches discriminatory, outdated ideas as “debates”. Titled  “What causes homosexuality”, the reading states that one possible “scientific study” suggests that “[it] would seem that the family pattern involving a combination of a dominating, overly intimate mother plus a detached, hostile or weak father is beyond doubt related to the development of male homosexuality.” The article also attributes homosexuality to child sexual abuse, urbanization and even education, among other “factors”.

The reading material was circulated to the students without stating that these articles presented antiquated viewpoints or that material with counter-points would be circulated at a later point. Even if such material was presumably sent with a view to provide a historical account of the development of sociology surrounding homosexuality, we unequivocally condemn the action of Dr. Bhandari in prescribing as essential reading only regressive and discriminatory material, shorn of all context and critical analysis, that propagates prejudice and perpetuates entrenched stereotypes against LGBTIQ persons. It is also puzzling as to why Dr. Bhandari circulated these readings, as they do not form part of the reference material set out in the curriculum shared with the students at the beginning of the semester.

When the issues with the reading material were raised by students with Dr. Bhandari, she initially claimed that this material was only to provide “background and context” and to expose students to “different perspectives”, and to encourage a “genuine debate”. She also undertook to send further material on “legal development and recent changes”. However, till date Dr. Bhandari has not provided the students with any material dealing with sociological developments around homosexuality that are non-stigmatising. The claims of providing different perspectives is, therefore, self- refuting, and results in students being presented only with the homophobic perspective. On further questions being raised, Dr. Bhandari chose to delegate the task of finding appropriate reading material to students, which was a clear act of reprisal for the students taking the initiative of pointing out the bigotry in the material shared.

We are given to understand that the Interim Student Body has written to the Vice-Chancellor highlighting these issues on April 14, and placed on record their demand for a corrigendum to be issued to the emails sent by Dr. Bhandari, for a fresh set of reading material for the module, as well as for a sensitisation session for all faculty. We fully endorse the representation issued by the Interim Student Body and reiterate the need for a sensitisation to be conducted for all faculty and staff of the University on issues surrounding gender and sexuality.

We clarify that we do not wish to curb free and fair debate in classrooms, nor do we wish to dictate how every course ought to be administered in the University. In fact, we stand strongly in favour of fostering an environment where there is no undue interference in the administration of the course – a factor that those of us now teaching hold in extremely high regard. However, the University has to strive to be free from bias, prejudice, and intolerance of all kinds, and faculty ought to be held to the highest standards of behaviour. Members of the faculty, who are in a position to exert influence over the students, are duty-bound to ensure that legitimacy is not given to the expression of views which are discriminatory and which call into question the very humanity and dignity of a section of the society. In fact, teaching should be the last thing that exacerbates the stigma, self-doubt for students who identify themselves with non-heteronormative sexual and gender identities in an already prejudicial environment.

Giving currency to reading material that legitimises prejudice and stigma against already marginalised communities, ostensibly to provide “all sides of a debate”, is symptomatic of discrimination as we see in today’s time which is unacceptable – especially so, in light of the empathy and sensitivity that discussion on such issues require, and in light of the academic advancements in the field of both science and sociology.

Lest this be dismissed as an atypical incident, we wish to draw your attention to numerous such instances of bigotry either being promoted or actively undertaken by Dr. Bhandari. During our time as students at the University, many of us have been at the receiving end of Dr. Bhandari’s one-sided course material, casually passed off as “essential reading”. Dr. Bhandari, during the course of classroom lectures and during interactions with us outside the classroom, did not refrain from making extremely misogynistic, casteist, racist, and islamophobic statements. She has unduly exercised her position of authority in the classroom as well as as a member of various bodies and committees, including the committee for the prevention of sexual harassment, and has passed value judgments on students’ characters, personal lives, consensual relationships, and personal belief systems. The impact that such denunciations from an authority figure may have had on the psychological well-being of countless students, more so those from marginalised communities, cannot be disregarded.

While we endorse the need for course correction and remedial steps in this particular instance, this incident also highlights the institutional failure to check such bigotry and to meaningfully address student concerns. The University administration has been averse to any consultation with the alumni on all issues including those surrounding sensitisation for all staff and faculty, a rigorous audit of course material, incorporating an effective system of student feedback, and putting into place mechanisms to address emerging concerns surrounding harassment faced by female and LGBTIQ students. Any such attempt by present students is immediately thwarted, and quite often accompanied with retribution, silencing all voices seeking to bring about change.

At its core, a dual degree in law and the arts must aim to train students to serve the needs and interests of society as well as encourage progressive and critical thinking, which is also the purported aim of Dr. Bhandari’s course. It is thus doubly unfortunate that Dr. Bhandari has instead chosen to perpetuate inequalities and discrimination against already vulnerable students. This is antithetical to the role of a University, and an abuse of her position.

Therefore, we call upon you to:

  • Constitute a committee, consisting of members of the General Council and external members of high academic repute, to conduct an inquiry forthwith into the incident and to take the requisite disciplinary action against Dr. Bhandari.
  • Initiate an immediate external peer review of the curriculum for the ‘Sociology – III Law and Society’ course and incorporate current, rigorous, well-researched reading material for the course.
  • Engage external academicians/lawyers/legal researchers as guest faculty for the module on homosexuality.
  • Organise a sensitization sessions for all staff and faculty on gender and sexuality, by trained external resource-persons.
  • Institute mechanisms to ensure that the highest standards of academic instruction are adhered to in the University, including a periodic curriculum development workshop, rigorous audit of teaching quality, course curriculum, and teaching methodology by independent peer-reviewers and senior academicians.
  • Initiate an effective anonymous feedback system, with detailed questions, and ensure that the feedback given by students is given due consideration while updating curriculum and engaging faculty.

We look forward to engaging with the University administration and the General Council to improve the standards of teaching and learning, and to ensure that the University is a safe space for all concerned, particularly those vulnerable.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

 

1 Aabhas Kshetarpal (Batch of 2016)
2 Abhilash Agrawal (Batch of 2018)
3 Abhilasha Gupta (Batch of 2019)
4 Abhinav Kumar (Batch of 2016)
5 Adhirath Singh (Batch of 2011)
6 Aditi Ameria (Batch of 2016)
7 Aditi Bajaj (Batch of 2015)
8 Aditya Pratap Singh (Batch of 2016)
9 Afreen Hashmi (Batch of 2019)
10 Aishwarya Rao (Batch of 2015)
11 Aishwarya Tripathi (Batch of 2019)
12 Ajita (Batch of 2015)
13 Akhil Raina (Batch of 2016)
14 Akshay Singh Ranawat (Batch of 2017 (PG))
15 Alokita Basu (Batch of 2012)
16 Aman (Batch of 2012)
17 Ambika Gupta (Batch of 2012)
18 Amrinder Singh (Batch of 2010)
19 Amrita Shivaprasad (Batch of 2018)
20 Anannya Ghosh (Batch of 2009)
21 Anila Baskar (Batch of 2016)
22 Animesh Khandelwal (Batch of 2013)
23 Anini Debbarman (Batch of 2019)
24 Aniruddha Singh (Batch of 2017)
25 Anjali Menon (Batch of 2018)
26 Ankur Prasad (Batch of 2018)
27 Anuj Bahukhandi (Batch of 2016)
28 Anurag Singh (Batch of 2016)
29 Aravind Viswanath (Batch of 2016)
30 Aritra Roy (Batch of 2013)
31 Arjun Mital (Batch of 2013)
32 Arjun Rao (Batch of 2013)
33 Arpita Saha (Batch of 2011)
34 Ashlesha Mittal (Batch of 2019)
35 Ashwin Mishra (Batch of 2016)
36 Athira Sankar (Batch of 2019)
37 Avantika Arun (Batch of 2019)
38 Avi Tandon (Batch of 2012)
39 Ayan Sinha (Batch of 2016)
40 Ayushi Mishra (Batch of 2017)
41 Badapbiang T Dkhar (Batch of 2015)
42 Barathi Nakkeeran (Batch of 2016)
43 Bhavana Sunder (Batch of 2017)
44 Bhavita Kumar (Batch of 2013)
45 Burjis S. (Batch of 2013)
46 Chaitanya Murali (Batch of 2016)
47 Chandrika Bhadu (Batch of 2012)
48 Chidambara Sastry Sarva (Batch of 2013)
49 Debapratim Ray (Batch of 2012)
50 Deepa Rani Moondra (Batch of 2016)
51 Dhanur Dhar Singh Rana (Batch of 2017)
52 Dharmita Prasad (Batch of 2013)
53 Divpriya Chawla (Batch of 2018)
54 Divya Padmanabhan (Batch of 2016)
55 Doel Saha (Batch of 2009)
56 Gargi Mishra (Batch of 2013)
57 Gargi Yadav (Batch of 2008)
58 Gopal Bose (Batch of 2009)
59 Greetika Francis (Batch of 2012)
60 Harvi Shah (Batch of 2018)
61 Inayat Singh Kakar (Batch of 2013)
62 Inika Charles (Batch of 2018)
63 Ishita Kumar (Batch of 2016)
64 Jai Sahai Endlaw (Batch of 2013)
65 Janaki Arun (Batch of 2017)
66 Jyotsna Chowdhury (Batch of 2012)
67 Karan Singh (Batch of 2017)
68 Karishma Chanana (Batch of 2011)
69 Ketki Agrawal (Batch of 2013)
70 Krati Chouhan (Batch of 2018)
71 Krithika Ashok (Batch of 2011)
72 Kritika Venugopal (Batch of 2009)
73 Kruti Venkatesh (Batch of 2017)
74 Lzafeer Ahmad B F (Batch of 2011)
75 Madhurima Gadre (Batch of 2018)
76 Mahima Rathi (Batch of 2013)
77 Mansi Srivastava (Batch of 2019)
78 Mansie Shah (Batch of 2010)
79 Meghana Chandra (Batch of 2013)
80 Meghna S (Batch of 2017)
81 Mihika Gupta (Batch of 2018)
82 Mitali Agrawal (Batch of 2016)
83 Nabil Shadab (Batch of 2015)
84 Nakul Nayak (Batch of 2015)
85 Nayanthika Ramakrishnan (Batch of 2012)
86 Ninni Susan Thomas (Batch of 2015)
87 NS Tanvi (Batch of 2015)
88 Padmaja Menon (Batch of 2016)
89 Pallavi Sharma (Batch of 2012)
90 Parikalp Gupta (Batch of 2018)
91 Parth (Batch of 2016)
92 Pavitra Venkateswaran (Batch of 2016)
93 Pinaky Pratyangira Paliwal (Batch of 2017)
94 Piyush Kumar (Batch of 2013)
95 Pooja Menon (Batch of 2016)
96 Pragati K B (Batch of 2016)
97 Prakrati Shah (Batch of 2019)
98 Pranaya Goyal (Batch of 2009)
99 Prateek Bhattacharya (Batch of 2012)
100 Pratham (Batch of 2017)
101 Priyadarshi Banerjee (Batch of 2011)
102 Purav Shah (Batch of 2017)
103 Ragini Gupta (Batch of 2018)
104 Rahul Mantri (Batch of 2019)
105 Rajarshi Sen (Batch of 2009)
106 Rajendra Dangwal (Batch of 2017)
107 Rakshita Goyal (Batch of 2019)
108 Rhea Jha (Batch of 2017)
109 Rishabh Bansal (Batch of 2013)
110 Rishi Murarka (Batch of 2018)
111 Ritika Singhal (Batch of 2012)
112 Ritu Doodi (Batch of 2016)
113 Riyan Jamsheed Vatcha (Batch of 2019)
114 Rohil Bansal (Batch of 2018)
115 Roshni Namboodiry (Batch of 2013)
116 Ruchi Priya Rawat (Batch of 2012)
117 Rukmani Seth (Batch of 2012)
118 Sagar Gupta (Batch of 2017)
119 Sanchit Agarwal (Batch of 2013)
120 Sandeep Suresh (Batch of 2015)
121 Sanjana Srikumar (Batch of 2017)
121 Sanjay Krishna (Batch of 2018)
122 Saudamini Sharma (Batch of 2009)
123 Savni Endlaw (Batch of 2013)
124 Shivangi Tyagi (Batch of 2015)
125 Shouri Bhat (Batch of 2018)
126 Shourya Sanyal (Batch of 2019)
127 Shraddha Kulhari (Batch of 2013)
128 Shreya Garg (Batch of 2012)
129 Shreya Mathur (Batch of 2017)
130 Shreya Munoth (Batch of 2013)
131 Shreya Rajahamsa Kotamarti (Batch of 2016)
132 Shreya Suresh (Batch of 2013)
133 Shrijita Bhattacharya (Batch of 2016)
134 Shriya Nayyar (Batch of 2016)
135 Soumya Patnaik (Batch of 2011)
136 Sreenidhi Srinivasan (Batch of 2012)
137 Surya Binoy (Batch of 2009)
138 Sushanth Belvet (Batch of 2018)
139 Tanisha Khaitan (Batch of 2017)
140 Theresa Thomas Kalathil (Batch of 2011)
141 Thomas (Batch of 2016)
142 Vaishnavi Bhaskaran (Batch of 2010)
143 Vanshika Mohta (Batch of 2017)
144 Varsha Manoj (Batch of 2019)
145 Vasundhara Majithia (Batch of 2017)
146 Vatsal Vasudev (Batch of 2016)
147 Vatsala Kumar (Batch of 2016)
148 Vijaya Sharma (Batch of 2013)
149 Zara Kaiser (Batch of 2013)

[Please note that the above call for action has been issued only by the named alumni and does not reflect the official position of any formal alumni association].

One thought on “NLU Jodhpur alumni and students protest homophobic teaching materials”

  1. Congratulations and many salaams to those who have written this impressive memorandum.

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