In a first-of-its-kind at educational institutes in India, the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR, Hyderabad) has introduced initiatives like creating gender-neutral rooms and washrooms, among many other ideas being implemented in an endeavour to make the University campus more inclusive for the gender non-conforming.
What started in the latter months of 2021 as discussions among the student community from the NALSAR Queer Collective and the Student Bar Council at the University on the need for gender-neutral safe spaces, culminated into the formation of an interim policy. This policy was created to safeguard the interests of students who do not conform to the set standards of the social construct.
Bar & Bench caught up with Assistant Professor at NALSAR Akanksha Singh, one of the members spearheading the gender neutral policy-making initiative, who said,
"We don't look at this step as a completion in its fullest form in creating inclusive spaces. There is a lot more work that needs to be done. We are working towards the possibility of having a gender-neutral hostel. This is not something that would materialize this semester, but by the next semester."
On the purpose of the gender-neutral rooms, Singh said,
"People come with different baggage, so this is just as a safe space that exists on campus where people could freely be who they are. It is intended to be a space where students who are non-conforming feel safe to be themselves and where they can uphold their privacy which they would otherwise not enjoy in cis-gendered hostels."
On the current interim gender-neutral policy that exists, Singh mentioned,
"The current policy being interim requires some changes to be introduced such as the setting up of the Gender & Sexual Minority (GSM) committee where students who identify themselves as gender-neutral can participate and organize sensitization programs to create awareness within the campus. We also intend to have a GSM officer, who would probably be one of the faculty members, who could represent the matters discussed by students to the higher authorities."
On the desired agendas being considered to be included in the final policy, Singh said,
"One of the things we are currently working on is introducing preferred pronouns. For students who would like to be called by a specific pronoun or noun and would not want to go through the medical procedures warranting change of names in official records, we are trying to make the attendance register - which is the primary channel through which a student's identity is often referred to - a record base with the nouns and pronouns as preferred by the student."
On the other initiatives taken thus far by the University in making the campus inclusive in its truest sense, Singh said,
"This week, we had one of the washrooms in the academic block converted as a gender neutral washroom. These are just initial steps and we are willing to take this further with more reforms."
Singh mentioned that University authorities have been extremely supportive and on-board with all suggestions being put forth in this regard. Since it is a joint effort with cooperation from all stakeholders, implementation of policies is taking place smoothly, she added.
Speaking to Bar & Bench, Vice Chancellor Prof. Faizan Mustafa, said,
"Our policy is an expression of and draws inspiration from the Supreme Court judgement in NALSA vs Union of India, Navtej Singh Johar vs Union of India and Justice KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India where individual's autonomy, privacy, right to self identify one's gender had been emphasized. The New Education Policy also talks about inclusive education for everyone - the LGBTQ+ community should get all facilities like others, there should be oservance of non-discrimination for them on campus, fair representation, reasonable accomodation for them."
"Student participation has been central in my administration which is phenomenal. The policy while being drafted, is thoroughly being debated on while also inviting suggestions, after which the policy will be finalized. Few years ago we were the second University in the world, next only to University of Oxford - to remove 'Mr' and 'Mrs' from the degrees. At NALSAR, our student community are the primary stakholders who have the majority say in decisions taken. I appreciate and place on record the good work done by the Committee in introducing this policy and we are still open to suggestions," he concluded.
Speaking to Bar & Bench, General Secretary of the NALSAR Student Bar Council Ankita Gupta said,
"The Student Bar Council has created a Committee to draft a final policy for the LGBTQ+ community - including infrastructure, identification and recognition, non-discrimination and creation of a Gender and Sexual Minorities Committee. The Committee currently consists of 5 students belonging to the LGBTQ+ community and 2 members of the Student Bar Council. Kranthi Kotwal, Tara Thakur, Priyasha Sinha, Shivam Sharma, Kruttika Lokesh, Sanjeev Gumpenapalli, Ankita Gupta and Aviral Aggarwal currently constitute the Committee."
"With pride and gratitude, I would like to point that our Vice-Chancellor Prof Faizan Mustafa, Assistant Professors Prerna Bijay and Akanksha Singh have facilitated the process, given their approval and guidance at every step," she added.