My Life in India

From Volume 2, Number 2 of the Lumpkin Law Review, October 1985

Each year, approximately 12-15 L.L.M. students from around the world enroll at the Law School. Many L.L.M.'s have fascinating backgrounds, yet most students know little about them. Accordingly, the Lumpkin Law Revue will profile an L.L.M. student in each issue.

This month, the Revue features Rampilla, Narayana Rao. The Revue's Marc Lewyn interviewed Rao at length, with intriguing results.

LLR: Rao, tell us a little about your background.

Rao: I was born in Vijawadia (a city in South India, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. I attended school and college in the same town, obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree from Andhra University. Subsequently, I attended V.R. Law College of Sree Venkatswara University. I then attended the University of Madras, where I obtained a Master's degree in International and Comparative Constitutional Law. Finally, equipped with a scholarship from my state government, I entered the doctoral program in law at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. This university was established in memory of the late prime minister Nehru, and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi served as the University's chancellor at one time.

LLR: The Nehru University is world famous. What kind of students attend?

Rao: Primarily members of the elite. The University's critics characterize the school as a burden on the nation, viewing the school as a way of helping the elite to perpetuate their grip on lndia's lucrative civil service.

LLR: You say that with more than a trace of bitterness. What kind of experiences did you have at Nehru?

Rao: The University and its faculty perpetuated a caste system - with the elite being the system's beneficiaries at other students' expense. The University gave the elite the best employment and academic opportunities, while relegating others to second class status. I myself was a member of the "high caste," yet I felt an obligation to fight against the discriminatory system.

LLR: Were there any means of seeking relief'?

Rao: We explored remedies through various administrative channels, but the University blocked us at every turn, along with a variety of pro-Soviet party bosses. We were very upset that the University, supposedly the national seat of learning, was in fact a repressive institution imposing an unjust caste system.

LLR: Who did the "repressing," and who comprised the members of the ruling caste?

Rao: The government appointed University administrators, pro-Soviet teachers, and high caste Hindu teachers.

LLR: What exactly were you fighting for, and how did you fight?

Rao: Well, we basically sought equal treatment for the so - called lower caste. Our first effort was a hunger strike; the strike eventually embroiled the whole University and attracted national attention. The University administration attempted to foil the strike by issuing arrest warrants.

LLR: Then you confronted local police?

Rao: Yes, the police came and attempted to take us away but we successfully resisted. Subsequently, the Proctor of the University verbally abused the hunger strikers before the whole student body, deriding lower caste strikers merely because they were not members of the elite.

LLR: Is this kind of treatment sanctioned under Indian law?

Rao: Certainly not. Since I was a member of the Indian bar, I filed a criminal complaint against the Proctor, citing the Indian Civil Rights Act. The Proctor had clearly violated the Act, and faced serious penalties. 1 felt confident that we would be vindicated in court.

LLR: Did the case go to trial?

Rao: No. We intended to use the suit as more of a tactical instrument than anything else, and we succeeded. The Proctor apologized unconditionally in writing. We withdrew the suit and claimed a partial victory.

LLR: How long did the hunger strikes continue before the Proctor apologized?

Rao: Ten days. On the tenth day, I developed heart problems. The Proctor sent me to the best hospital in India - the hospital normally reserved for Parliament members and Prime Ministers.

LLR: Did your struggle end?

Rao: Not at all - this was only the beginning. The second controversy began when one high caste teacher publicly abused several low cast students. When the students complained to me, I tried to resolve the problem amicably - but the leftist teachers and high caste Hindus stood by the teacher's actions. Once again, all appeals to the University failed. Finally, we (members of the student union) marched on Parliament. Also, I filed a second lawsuit. As you can imagine, we once again became the center of national controversy.

LLR: How did Parliament react?

Rao: Parliament reacted in an absurd fashion. The Home Minister declared that since our case was pending in court, Parliament could not address our complaint. We were thus trapped, without remedy. The laws that should have protected us had a contrary effect.

LLR: Why did Parliament act as it did?

Rao: Frankly, I believe that Parliament sought to avoid international embarrassment. During the period of our struggle, the Non-Aligned nations were convening in New Delhi. Suppression of student dissent therefore served the government's purpose. Parliament is, of course, made up of primarily high caste Hindus.

LLR: Surely Parliament's pronouncement did not stop your protest?

Rao: Well, Parliament's action created divisions within our student union. The high caste students and pro-Soviet student factions voted to stop the demonstrations. I didn't want to; had we continued for one more day, we could have won; the University would have taken action against the teacher.

LLR: Please explain.

Rao: As you may know, Mrs. Gandhi at that time wanted to be chairperson of the Non-Aligned nations, and she would have not allowed any adverse publicity from this incident to interfere. In politics, as in law, timing is very important.

LLR: So your faction lost, and the protest stopped?

Rao: Yes - temporarily. The University and the high caste faculty finally tried to crush our student union a few weeks later by expelling our president. We simply could not tolerate this, The University had violated our right to freedom of association and to free expression. Accordingly, we marched again.

LLR: What was the University's response?

Rao: The University brought in riot police, who mercilessly beat us, and then arrested numerous students. The students were then detained in Delhi`s Tihar Central Jail, the most noxious jail in India. Some students who were badly beaten were taken to the hospital rather than to the jail. I myself sf freed head injuries, and was taken to the hospital. The jailed students were released after a few days, but were ex peeled from their dormitories. Further, the University closed for three months.

LLR: Were you expelled?

Rao: Yes. In fact, when the University reopened, I and other student leaders were brought before a bogus inquiry committee on several absurd grounds. Subsequently, I sought and obtained an injunction, asking for reinstatement. To obtain the injunction, I appeared before the Supreme Court of India.

LLR: lt. appears that you spend the better part of your time fighting the University rather than studying law. Was your arrival at this law school related to your problem at Nehru?

Rao: Well, I had applied for further doctoral studies abroad during this time - I felt that I would not be welcome in India for too long. I applied and was accepted here, but Nehru continued to hound me. Nehru formally expelled me in absentia and wrote a letter to Dean Beard recommending that this law school take some action against me to make me an example in order to suppress the student struggle in India.

LLR: Moving to this continent for a moment - how do you feel about your experience at Georgia'? You have obviously not been the subject of quite as much controversy.

Rao: I am not used to the culture here; I had never been out of my country before I came here. At first, it was very difficult for me to communicate with students at this school. Yet, I found that people are friendly. Still, I have encountered some prejudice the kind that I feel any Third World student would suffer.

LLR: Would you recommend this school to other Indian students?

Rao: This is a nice place; as I said, I very much enjoy it here. But, a person from India may be better off in a large city with a little more diversity.

LLR: Do you find students here interesting?

Rao: Yes, very interesting. They think and act differently than most In dins. Here, people are very career oriented, and are not very interested in world politics. But students here are more articulate, and are unafraid to use these talents.

LLR: What about the social life here?

Rao: Basically, Americans like parties - and I like them too. I had never danced before; Americans have introduced me to many enjoyable things. These kinds of pleasures are confined to the privileged class in India; everyone can enjoy them here.

LLR: What does the future hold for Rao?

Rao: I very much want to stay in the United States. As you can imagine, I will have quite a few problems if I return to India.