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Why Over 200 Of Us Are Breaking The Curfew To Reclaim Our College Campus

By Nisha Mariam Johnson:

#BreakTheCurfew, #ResponsiblyFree – these are hashtags that have become familiar with use over the past 3 weeks in my college (College of Engineering, Trivandrum).

College of Engineering, Trivandrum BTC..

The college, a government establishment, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, prides itself on very contrasting achievements like technical education, modern outlook, ‘prestige’ and perhaps most importantly, following cultural standards which were modern in 1939 (like a curfew for the Ladies’ Hostel of 6:30 pm). What are the reasons cited by the authorities to keep the curfew in place?

1. Security issues – Low height of compound walls, attitude of the locals, dark streets.

2. Possible ‘misuse’ – Perhaps the most common of reasons, ‘misuse’ ranges from talking to boys to, like a friend put it, ‘wild, unrestrained sex.’

3. The hostel ‘inmates‘ were aware of rules when they took admission and had signed a declaration form, promising to abide by all rules.

4. Cost of increasing security.

5. There are WiFi facilities at the hostel and citing ‘lack of access to libraries’ is an excuse.

6. “Culture”.

7. Girls have curfew at their homes, why not the hostel?

Jpeg

These reasons are irresponsible and repressive pretexts, because it is the responsibility of the authorities to provide security to the students. Extending the fenced perimeter, and putting in more lights within the campus are all doable. For years, the Ladies’ Hostel has had a strange rule, something like caging the bird with clipped wings. At 9 PM, the grills connecting our corridors and those giving us access to the courtyard are locked. The arguably ‘ancient’ building is at a constant risk of a fire hazard. The authorities, who supposedly care for our safety, have not, all these 75 years, considered putting in even a fire exit! This is simply because death is considered better than loss of ‘honor’. Female students who have to catch early morning trains leave the hostel at 6:30 PM and wait at the station, sometimes till 3 AM, because once closed, the gates are opened only at 6 AM. Again, the lack of security here has not been the cause for concern of our college authorities in all of 75 years.

Authorities say that they give permission for students who have work to do. This permission is obtained very rarely and with much effort. One question – is the campus suddenly more secure when these girls who have permission, roam around? Is it safer when fewer girls are out at a time?

The college has part-time classes in the evening. Don’t these students need the security that the authorities have already acknowledged does not exist?

IISER, a central government institute, which shares the CET campus, has a curfew of 10:30 PM for both girls and boys alike. Security is ensured by constant patrolling near the building and residence areas. The watchmen aren’t chosen at random and most are ex-military men. How then do they say this campus is always unsafe for CET girls?
Also, the Centre for Development Studies, Ulloor, another institute which shares the same ‘cultural’ land as our college, has not had any curfew and no issues whatsoever, for 40 years now.

H. Venkatesh, IPS, City Police Commissioner, had, at a discussion on ‘Break The Curfew’, offered to provide police patrolling both inside and outside the campus should the authorities agree to a curfew change.

BTC Street Play

The authorities have no trust in our maturity or sense of responsibility. Statistics like “10% genuine and 90% misuse” were thrown at us. Like someone put it, we are mistrusted for our youth and our gender. As young adults over the age of 18, we deserve the chance to make mistakes, explore our freedom and learn to live with the world past 6:30 PM. If we do not learn to do this now, how will we do that at our workplaces, just a few years down the lane? How do the authorities expect us to learn to be ‘mature’ when we’re thrown into the world without the harness of a curfew once we leave college? ‘Misuse’ is a word that’s highly subjective and it is unfair that a skewed definition has locked up 400+ girls of the college each day at 6:30 PM for 75 years.

As freshers, we were not aware of the facilities outside college and all forms were signed under this ignorance. From libraries and computing facilities, active beyond our curfew time, to mixed group projects and tougher assignment problems, girls of the LH do not have equal access. The M.Tech students are purposely given simpler assignments to do because teachers know that they have neither the resources nor the freedom to access these at the hostel.

With a restriction on our time has come a restriction on our space – physically and mentally. Roadblocks in the evening usually only allow us to move to areas within a walkable distance. Despite being the capital city, we cannot attend college fests and competitions, cultural programs in the city, or run a simple errand in town because everything we do is defined by the boundary traversed by the minute hand.

BTC Night out Protest

The college has spent immense amounts of money on programs, especially this year, as part of the 75th year celebrations. The excuse of not having funds is absurd and unjustified. There are plans for new buildings and departments to be set up in a couple of years. Not once has a discussion arisen on increasing security or assigning funds for the same. In addition, the WiFi at the hostel does not give the students access to International Journals, and this can be done only over the college network.

Sandra, a 2014 graduate, told us that she took months to recover from the fear associated with the dreaded 6:30 PM, which affected her efficiency at work.

‘Culture’ is not something that resides in locked rooms. It is the result of free expression of ideas. A restriction of this is what will make us a “culture-less” people.

Again, even having a curfew at home does not restrict our daily needs to work and communicate. We have an easier access to transportation and facilities at our homes. Also, projects can be done in mixed groups and discussions can be conducted with friends. The situation is not the same in a hostel.

The students of our college began to explicitly show signs of protest against the obviously biased 6:30 PM rule around 3 weeks back. Initially, the College Union approached the Principal with a letter citing reasons for a curfew change and the suggestion to extend it. The Principal of our ‘premier’ institution did not even bother reading it. The inmates of the LH decided to take things up into their own hands at this point and the first thing that was done was the creation of an FB page, “Break the Curfew” as a platform to collect stories from students and inform the general public about the movement’s progress. Soon after, letters were sent in to multiple organizations and personalities. The Vanitha Commission responded positively and sent a letter to the Principal, affirming their support. However, the Director of Technical Education claimed that a curfew change was not ‘applicable to our social fabric’ and girls should be let out only up to 7 PM at the most. There was no reply from the Human Rights Commission. On March 4, a Cycle Rally was organized to celebrate Women’s Day and to spread the word about BTC. This was followed by a street play at the College on March 10th. On March 11th, an Open Forum was conducted, moderated by Umesh Omanakuttan, a JNU research fellow. The discussion had opinions expressed by the Hostel Warden, teachers, members of both political parties on campus, and representatives of the LH. It was obvious that the authorities were deluded about the state of affairs. They falsely claimed that a curfew rule existed for all Government colleges. In addition, they were unaware of the directive from the University Grants Commission, which mandated the setting up of a “Committee Against Sexual Harassment.” It is the responsibility of the college to set up this body to address issues faced by women in campuses, and this has not been implemented at CET to date.

The movement is a constant point of discussion in the media, with reports by CNN, NDTV, The Hindu, TOI, Mathrubhumi, Manorama, Asianet News and Kerala Kaumadi, among many others. Support has been pouring in from actors like Rima Kallingal, Aashiq Abu and Joy Mathew. Alumni like Padma Shri G Shankar, Achuth Shankar, Dr.Babu Paul IAS, ex-education minister M.A.Baby and minister Muneer, writers like Devika, Sugathakumari teacher and many others ranging from Vrinda Karat to Shashi Tharoor have expressed solidarity for the movement. Universities like JNU, DU, Hyderabad University, singer Mohit Chauhan, transgender activist Kalki Subramaniam and the general public have responded, supporting our struggle.

Despite all these efforts, the Principal and other authorities were disdainful and refused to even listen to us. Thus, with no other option left, on March 18, the students decided to stage a peaceful protest on the campus, refusing to get in till 9PM, till our voices were heard and the authorities responded. Around 230 girls and even some of the boys of the college got together in unified support of a curfew change which violated all notions of gender equality on campus.

During the ‘night-out’ protest, efforts were taken by the students, media and MLAs to contact the Principal who refused to pick up any calls. Finally, the Chief Editor of The Hindu, Gauri Shankar, spoke to the principal. However, this was to no avail, as she refused to compromise on her stand and the protest continued.

After 11 PM, the Assistant Warden made an appearance, claiming to have been watching us since 6:30 PM, but shamelessly not taking an initiative to respond. Finally, at about 11:45 PM, the Principal conceded to a discussion the next day to decide upon the course of action.

What “touched” our hearts most was the concern for our safety during the protest. Authorities, who claimed to lock us up out of love and fear of our safety, didn’t even pick up our calls let alone provide security.

Up until now, the principal had varying opinions. Despite being an IITian who enjoyed flexible curfew timing on campus, she wouldn’t allow that situation considering Kerala’s “cultural” background. This opinion slowly transformed into the safer, “PTA shall decide” stand which she knew would be favorable to her position.

The discussion held on March 19 decided a change in the usual PTA meeting to be held on March 21. The Principal initially questioned the need for a change in a ’75 year old rule’. Strangely, the policy seems to be, the older the rule, the more applicable it becomes to our changing times.

The new format for this special PTA meeting was a 2 round discussion with parents and teachers – discussing privately in the initial round, followed by a smaller meeting which will have students representing the LH, parents of LH inmates, and teachers. It will be at this meeting that the future of our freedom will be determined.

In addition to this meeting, another one was held with the Higher Education Secretary, whose creativity in suggesting a solution I must admire at this point of time. The need was for gender equality, our supposed tagline was, “If guys, then why not girls,” so, why not advance the curfew timing of the boys hostel?!

A small background into the situation of the men’s accommodation facilities – most students rent houses or stay in hostels outside the campus over which authorities have no jurisdiction and where timings are flexible. The other option is the college men’s hostel where the gate was removed in protest, years ago, and the word ‘curfew’ is seen with part “yeah, right” and part, “you’ve got to be kidding me.”

Perhaps one of the secondary successes of our movement would have to be the extension of the curfew at NIT, Calicut, from 7 to 9 PM within the campus. NITC students, inspired by the “Break The Curfew” movement, submitted a letter to the Dean, requesting a curfew change, and within a day, with absolutely no protest, the timing was extended.

At the end of the day, we could write whole reports and rebuttals. However, tomorrow, at the PTA meeting, the parents are under no obligation to cite justification for their stand. A simple “no” could take us all back to staring at clock hands again. As long as they pay our fees, they’re the owners of our tongues, our wings – dictating where our feet walk, where our minds roam.

At the end of the day, we want a change – in culture, in mindsets. And it has happened. The greatest success for me in this movement might not be the roaring euphoria of revolution, but perhaps the quiet voice of my orthodox friend who once disagreed, telling me, ‘You’re right. We need to get out too’.

I wonder if the girls of our college, like the fairytale princesses, will forever wait for our clocks to strike at 6:30 PM.

However, one day we will discover the fairy Godmother in us and on that day, as Ayn Rand put it, “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me”.

You must be to comment.
  1. D Gill

    Are these girls not all over 18? They are ADULTS. How can a univeristy infantilize its students by imposing curfews and restrictions? Anywhere else in the world they could come and go freely like HUMAN BEINGS. What a ridiculous bunch of rules. Good luck ladies, stand your ground.

    1. Ra’s al Ghul

      Boys who don’t like college rules rent an apartment – Why don’t girls?

  2. SG

    I would like to add this. If the decision comes to keep the curfew. Then the university should do the same for Boys hostel too. Because Boys (a few of them) are the ones from whom the girls need to be saved from. So, locking up the boys will increase the security.

  3. Monistaf

    These girls are all over 18, legally adults, and can, and should take responsibility for their own safety and be held accountable for their own actions just like adult women everywhere else in the country. As long as they absolve the university of all responsibility for their security and safety, the curfew does not make sense. If however, they hold the university or the hostel administration responsible, they need to abide by their rules. This is exactly the reason why boys hostels do not have curfews, because no one would hold the university responsible if the boy is a victim of a crime. Equal treatment, equal rules ladies.

  4. Ra’s al-Ghul

    How many parents allow their daughters to be out after certain time at night? Even at homes, boys and girls have to be home before a fixed time as it gets dangerous at night. Also, the institute will be held responsible if anything was to happen to girl, and the very girls crying over the curfew will blame the institue endlessly since they are hypocrites full of double standards, so obviously there will be rules. If you don’t like rules, rent an apartment.

    1. Jayakumar

      hmmmmmm… I agree as parents we dont want to see our kids out at night. But THESE ARE ADULTS.. or how long do you think parents must have a control over their grown up children and when does the constitutional rights of freedom, liberty and equality kick in. What we have in India is a patriarchial system that needs to change if our country has to develop.

    2. Appunni

      Ra’s Al-Ghul , this comment is an extremist view to suppress freedom of women. There may be 100 such reasons to hold against them.

      1. “How many parents allow their daughters to be out after certain time at night? ”
      Change your mentality about parents, parents don’t command on their daughter. Its only based on love and respect one listen to their parents’ words. No body love and respect their warden to listen to them, the rules are being forced upon. And even if the curfew is removed those who love their warden and want to be inside the hostel can do so.

      2. ” Even at homes, boys and girls have to be home before a fixed time as it gets dangerous at night.”
      Let me ask you why night is dangerous ? At night will mummies come to life ? Are there Leopards Hunting on our streets ? I feel that the night is same as the day. And let me tell you , at night the vision is impaired and that was the reason why a 75 year old rule exist to curtail the crime rate at night. Today in the year of 2015 we have enough light to see the whole world same as the day at night. Now the question is why stop only women from going out at night ? Its called Sexism , gender discrimination & some people call it “Culture”, damn with that culture where it doesn’t teach us to respect everyone else irrespective of their Gender , Race or their Colour .

      3 “Also, the institute will be held responsible if anything was to happen to girl, and the very girls crying over the curfew will blame the institute endlessly since they are hypocrites full of double standards”
      This one I liked the way you said it (Sarcasm 😉 ). Institute should be held responsible if anything was to happen to a girl, and will be same with guys I suppose . The line just reveals your inner thoughts of discrimination on women at great level. So its okay if anything was to happen to a guy ???? But shouldn’t the Institute be more responsible for the security of a student rather than running away from the problem, by locking the students Inside ? And how is a girl a hypocrite for blaming Institute for their security ? Is it double standard to have both freedom and security at the same time ? I don’t feel so.
      Myself Student of IIT (BHU) , come to our college once and see how they are solving the problem of freedom vs security . I do understand it comes at big cost. But I say that its worth paying for .

      4. ” so obviously there will be rules. If you don’t like rules, rent an apartment.”
      I completely agree with you ( Not sarcasm ) . Renting an apartment is a nice option if you want more freedom . But its like saying you pay for your freedom. Because it comes at the cost of money.

      Overall I find your comment offensive , but hey I don’t judge you for this comment . After all its just an opinion

    3. pooja

      facilities are worse and rent goes very high.so girls PREFER non-college hostel;that doesn’t mean girls are not staying outside.College hostel accommodates only about 400 students and more than this are staying outside.And it’s all about rules, then we should be given the fee waiver as we are utilizing lesser facilities in college.N about this “happening to girl”..pls point out one difference between the girls from part time course til 9 and IISER till 10.30 working in the same campus.staying with parents..it is not called curfew.

  5. The Joker

    These girls should be kicked out of college.

    1. Sonam

      Why should the girls be kicked out of college?

    2. Chethan

      He’s jealous that he’s not even half as smart as these girls.

    3. Ra’s al Ghul

      Because they are a disgrace to the institution.

  6. Murugesh R

    Succinctly put and I hope, wish this movement for change succeeds…am proud each of the brave juniors of mine who have dared to stand and fight….

  7. Jigsaw

    Over 200 girls need to see a psychiatrist.

    1. pooja

      pls sponsor it..

  8. Gowri Sapna

    Well done Nisha. There are teachers in our college who say if you extend the LH timing, you’ll have to open a hospital in the campus as well. Girls have to be protected and they need to preserve our “culture”.
    This battle is tough. But we gotta fight this. For us and for generations of girl students yet to come.

    1. Ra’s al Ghul

      Gowri, girls do not need protection, the college needs protection from girls.

  9. K M Venugopalan

    A much needed initiative on the part of women, in the context of curfew imposed against inmates’ right as normal citizens to move out of the gates after 6 30 pm in ladies hostels everywhere in Kerala

  10. Raj

    Nisha, Challenging the authorities is one way of solving this problem, but the intent should be limited to that and not to create friction and chaos. Why can’t the girls rent houses outside the campus just like the boys do? It happens in other cities like Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune and Delhi. I think Trivandrum is as safe as any of these cities and girls must break out of the mold and venture outside their campuses. Initially, they may face some criticism, impediments but all trend setters have had to face opposition, in 10 years all the girls who live in rented places will be thanking them, and the colleges which will lose out on business will be forced to reform.

  11. Ra’s al Ghul

    Even Lady Shri Ram College for Women has the same rules.

    1. pooja

      but JNU doesnt have it at all.

  12. g

    Im really glad you have the support of the girls of your hostel. We women tend not to have the courage to step up and voice our concerns and demands. Truly glad 🙂

  13. Dr. M. Godwin Joseph

    I passed out of College of Engineering Trivandrum in 1952 (BSc Eng). At that time the college was not at the present site. There were no lady students and there were no ladies hostel. The college was started at the old site in 1939 and hence the 75 years pertains to the initial college and not the college at the present site and the ladies hostel associated with the new site. Hence the 75 years mentioned at several places in the article is not correct. It may be 55 year (or less) old rule (depends on when the ladies hostel was commissioned). The article was written in 2015. There must have been changes in rules over the last one year. What is the present status?
    In the year 2016, I think the said curfew rule is old fashioned and the PTA, Hostel Warden, Principal and DTE should reconsider the rule.

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