By Simran Nandrajog:
On November 22, 2016, National Institute of Technology (NIT) Calicut issued a warning notice, banning girls in the residential campus from roaming around with boys; and if any girl was found doing so, strict action would be taken against her, including suspension and expulsion from the hostel. The circular, issued by the female warden, S Bhuvaneswari, clearly said that only the girl (and not the boy) would be held responsible if they were found together. While the warning notice was pulled down soon after severe backlash, the question is why was it issued in the first place? Campus Watch spoke to a few students, faculty members and alumni to understand the situation at the institute better, and here’s what we found out.
Various students, including prominent student representatives, told us that the notice was released because faculty members from residential areas felt that boys and girls roaming around together qualified as ‘indecent conduct’. A computer science student questions why girls and boys cannot roam around together, “I don’t understand what’s wrong with it! Once a guy came to drop a girl at the hostel gate, and while both of them were talking, a security guard noticed them and started whistling. It was so embarrassing.” Most people, including faculty members, condemned the notice – deeming it as sexist and as an infringement on the freedom of movement. As a result, the notice was retracted the very next day.
One faculty member, Paul Joseph said “We have two campuses on both sides of the state highway. On one of the sides, there is the faculty and women’s residence. Unfortunately, some boys and girls have disturbed the privacy of faculty members by going near their residences. This might have led to criticism of the warden, and she must have put up the notice in a hurry. However, this has been a very unfortunate thing, and the warden handled it in a very immature manner.” On the other hand, G Unnikrishnan, Dean of Student’s Welfare told Times of India that “The warden… might have only intended to remind students about courtesies.”
Many students were disappointed not because of the notice, but because this wasn’t the only sexist regulation on campus. A second-year student from the ladies’ hostel told us that she was so frustrated with the numerous regulations, it made her rethink her decision of continuing studies at the institute. According to her, “It’s true that there are many restrictions for us that have made our lives a living hell. Daily, at 7 pm, we have to give a roll call, and we can’t go outside the hostel after that.” She also complained of absurd reasoning by the admin for imposing this curfew, “And one of the reasons given for the same by the warden is that girls should take a bath by 7 pm, for hygiene, and that taking bath late at night isn’t healthy. This rule exists only for girls. Also, girls cannot go out of the hostel till 6 am unless there is special permission for the same. And in classes, many professors don’t like boys and girls sitting together.” Such restrictions are exclusively for the ladies’ hostels.
Another female student said to Campus Watch, “Without permission, girls cannot sit anywhere in the college to study, except their hostel. If they want to study in the library, let’s say, post 9 pm, they require special permission for the same. Studying is restricted to the study area only, and boys aren’t allowed in that area. During exams, they need to get permission to get classrooms opened so that they can sit there and study – though this rule exists for both boys and girls.”
This is not all. There also exists a rulebook, only for the ladies’ hostel, where more rules and regulations have been laid down. Some of them include getting penalised for entering the hostel premises post 9 pm; not being allowed to hold any kind of meeting or celebration; and taking special permissions from the respective faculty advisor, HoD and warden – in order to go for excursions and picnics. The situation is only worse for girls in their first year. They cannot go out of campus anywhere except home and that too is only allowed on weekends – the logic given by the authorities for these absurd rules is the classic ‘safety for women’ argument.
Moreover, girls are locked in their respective hostel blocks at night, and cannot even meet girls from other blocks. While hostel curfews also exist for boys in their first year – they are limited to being back in the hostel premises by 6 pm. Otherwise, they can go anywhere at any time and are also allowed night outs. In 2015, the student affairs committee had organised a strike to protest against curfews on girls, in which none of the senior boys and girls returned to the hostel at night. Such an action also didn’t have the desired impact and the administration never bothered to address the issue.
Another female student, who does not wish to reveal her identity, said that the notice could also have been issued because of the presence of many elderly people including faculty, living on campus. In her view, students cannot expect them to be as liberal as they are. She further stated that, while addressing the students post the retraction of the notice the warden clarified that the “contents of the notice were blown out of proportion,” leading to the backlash.
Based on the opinions of students, two questions arise. First, why are there so many restrictions in an educational institution, which is supposed to nurture a free and liberal environment? And second, why do all these restrictions exist only for girls? A female student, who is a member of the student council, said that the administration argues in favour of curfews for women because the ladies’ hostel is situated near the public road and Calicut isn’t considered a safe city. She also added that this reasoning is illogical since the hostel is only five steps away from the main campus. On being asked about the notice, in particular, she said that both she and her colleagues, as well as many faculty members such as Paul Joseph, were disappointed with the circular, as they not only felt it was restricting and unfair to girls but also violated the fundamental right of movement.
Speaking with two former students of the institution, about the prevalent sexism, both said that such restrictions have always been in place, and women have always been at the receiving end. Tony Simon, a 2011 graduate said “Issues with curfews and bias against girl students has always been there at NIT Calicut. Periodically, issues do get raised, but nothing substantial has happened yet.” On being asked about the restrictions in place for male students, he said “Male students have always been kept out of the curfews. I have literally slept on the Calicut beach through the night, and returned in the morning, without anyone questioning my whereabouts.”
A 2014 graduate, Aditya Maheshwari also echoed the same views. According to him, “NIT Calicut is regressive in infinite ways. During my time, women students were expected to be back into the hostels by 7 pm, and special permissions were required to stay out beyond that time. These permissions were quite a task.” When asked whether students have protested against the rampant sexism on campus, Aditya said that some of his seniors, mostly women students had protested. However, their actions had led them to a lot of humiliation as the institute sent letters to their parents – accusing them of misconduct. The situation for the current students is no different. They have often complained about insensitivity by the authorities in addressing the students’ grievances. In February 2015 too, some female students had protested to get the hostel timings extended beyond 7 pm – only in vain.
While sexist rules in Indian colleges aren’t unheard of, the situation at NIT is a matter of concern. If educational institutions, which are supposed to foster an environment of gender equality implement such discriminatory restrictions, then we cannot expect our society to grow out of the existing patriarchal norms.