In 2016, my university – Vellore Institute Of Technology – was ranked first among private engineering institutions in India, by none other than our own Ministry of Human Resource Development. Admittedly, it provides a (relatively) good standard of textbook education and infrastructure. But the sinister truth is that it claims to be the ‘best private university’ while wreaking havoc on us students, infringing on so many of our fundamental rights.
This is how it does it:
It starts with every student and their parents being made to sign a special affidavit at the time of admission. The affidavit covers a variety of fair points on the legal consequences of possessing drugs and arms. But it also states that if any student is involved in actions that relate to questioning university policies, it would result in immediate rustication at the discretion of the management, without question.
Despite stating in the affidavit that the university “encourages healthy interaction between boys and girls“, the university prohibits any physical contact between the genders. To enforce this, there is a “Discipline Committee” of teachers and security personnel. They patrol the campus, and catch and fine students who are seen holding hands, with their arm around the shoulders of a student of the opposite sex, or any other such gesture they may disapprove of.
Flat surfaces across the campus have been tapered down, fenced with barbed wire or made conical to prevent students from sitting anywhere. We’re not even allowed to cut cakes and celebrate birthdays anywhere but in a designated area!
After (and only after) 6.30pm, male students are prohibited from going anywhere that leads to the women’s hostels – the same areas that, during daytime, can be accessed by anyone. In effect, this cordons men off from an entire portion of the campus.
On weekends, students are only allowed to leave campus for a maximum of six hours, and only four times a month. If you want to go out for lunch or a movie with friends, forget about it.
I recall one particular incident when the university’s official dance club decided to conduct a dance workshop for students, but was shut down because girls and boys were seen dancing in the same space. The workshop only resumed after a barricade segregated the boys and girls.
What gives a university the right to selectively restrict the freedom of movement students like this?
The rules for men are still not as extreme as they are for women. Women students are questioned by security personnel about their movements both within and outside campus. Worse still, a monetary fine may be levied if a woman student happens to be meeting someone of another gender. And while male students only need their student ID cards to move about, female students have to provide their fingerprints in a biometric tracking machine every time they enter and exit campus.
And, unsurprisingly, the curfew for female students is much earlier than it is for male students.
These double standards show themselves in how students are permitted to dress inside the university. There is no official dress code, but women students wearing short sleeved or sleeveless tops, jeans, or pants that are slightly above the ankle are made to change into more ‘modest’ clothing, so they can “be safe from the boys”. Boys on the other hand can walk around wearing shorts, sleeveless t-shirts anywhere barring the main academic block and library.
Even when you are 21 and above the legal drinking age in Tamil Nadu, if you consume alcohol anywhere in the district’s limits, you shall be tracked down, put into solitary confinement and questioned. You will even be forced to give up urine and blood samples and eventually suspended for a whole year, or expelled.
Surely, the students can’t enjoy this sort of treatment! So how does the university get away with it?
In 2013, a female student and a teacher were expelled for questioning the disparity in the curfew time for men and women.
Students who live outside campus, are required to sign letters that give the University the right to raid any house at will, if suspected of engaging in activities that they disapprove of. And when the majority of the students are not residents of Vellore – staying either in campus hostels or rented rooms – the fear of expulsion is huge. And we are forced to suck it all up.
It’s not uncommon to hear these kinds of things happening in universities in South India, especially since many university authorities have a lot of political influence. Our Chancellor, for example, is a retired politician, and even the police in the town are powerless against him and his sons. Here, a violation of basic rights is routine. And it is shameful indeed for a university that boasts of being the best only provides an environment of sexism, misogyny, and dictatorship to its students.