In India, residential facilities in educational institutions are known to impose several restrictions on the movement of students. One of the most important forms of restrictions include curfew timings – these timings determine when students should be back in the hostels or dormitories. Not so surprisingly, there are more restrictions imposed on female students as compared to their male colleagues. In many colleges, girls are expected to be back in their hostels earlier than boys, their clothing is policed, and in many instances, they have to go through various hurdles in order to get permission for a night out.
With all such restrictions in place, it is quite a task for people of opposite sexes to get to know each other, mingle and have conversations with each other – let alone visit each other’s dorms. However, there are some institutions which allow men and women to visit each other’s hostels during certain timings of the day – one of them being Ashoka University, a newly opened Liberal Arts college in Sonepat, Haryana.
Unlike most colleges in India, Ashoka University, in sync with providing liberal arts education, doesn’t impose any curfews regarding movement in and out of campus for both male and female students. As mentioned above, it also allows girls and boys to visit each other’s dorms. However, when the university newly opened in 2014, only women were permitted to visit the men’s hostels, while men weren’t allowed the same and the timings of these visits was restricted between 8 am to 10:30 pm. The reason given by the administration was that women might be uncomfortable with boys in their corridors, especially during the time when they would want to take a shower (before sleeping/early morning).
While some students said that the curfew timings were necessary, many others weren’t pleased with them. Madhavi Menon, professor of literature at Ashoka University, argued that the timings were ridiculous, since it was a way to police the sexuality of students. She said that the curfew was based on the notion that people will only have sex at night, therefore, men and women are expected to be in their respective dorms by 10:30pm.
However, Surabhi Katyal, a final year student at Ashoka University thinks otherwise. She states that since most students in India are financially dependent on their parents, unlike countries like the US, the university stands by the collective opinion of the parents, who don’t prefer the movement into the dorms of the opposite sexes. The argument is that while students are being exposed to a liberal education, their parents might not have been so and therefore, their views might be conservative and so, they would want the curfew to be in place. Surabhi also goes on to add that the onus of bringing about a change of opinion lies on each and every student as they can have a dialogue with their parents about such issues, and why they do or don’t support the curfew.
In April 2016, based on feedback, the residence authorities decided to conduct a one week trial in which men were allowed into women’s dorms. After the trial ended, a survey was conducted, in which students were asked whether they were comfortable with people of the opposite sex being in their dorms. Based on the survey, the university decided that starting from the academic year 2016-17, the floors in each of the residencies will be divided into two categories – ‘non-access’ and ‘access’. Non-access floors would be where members of the opposite sex cannot go, while for access floors, the curfew was reduced to a period of four hours (8 am to 10 am; 8 pm to 10 pm) when most students go for a shower.
This decision has been met with positive feedback from most students, as they feel that everyone’s needs have been accommodated. When asked, Shreyas Shende, a member of the Student Government and Campus Life Minister, said that it was good that the university finally had the same policies for men and women, and that while the students could access each other’s dorms, they have the four hours to themselves. His colleague, Samridh Kudesia, also a member of the Student Government agrees with him on this view. He said that a curfew in place was necessary since the students and their parents were promised the same before they joined Ashoka. As for the new timings, he feels that a balance has been created, through the system of access and non-access floors and that this is a decent solution.
In my opinion, this is a good way to allow men and women to engage with each other and is definitely better than distancing them by banning or restricting their movement through curfews. Even female students are satisfied – Aishwarya Jain, a student at Ashoka said, “I don’t mind men visiting the girls’ hostel, but I would definitely want a few hours without running into them.” Most students seem to be satisfied with the new residence life policies, as they feel these aren’t aimed to police their movement, and also gives them an option of non-access floors for those uncomfortable with members of the opposite sex in their dorms.