India is witnessing a wave of student protests around the country against the arbitrary hostel rules imposed by the administration under the guise of ‘safety.’ Recently, on October 9, the female PhD students of Rajasthan Central University began a protest against the unfair surveillance rules of the women’s hostel which was later joined by 300 male students. The Proctor and chief warden tried to initiate a dialogue with the students but both the parties failed to arrive at a consensus.
Reportedly, the movement then spread to the undergraduate hostel where 70 students broke the hostel locks and continued the protest which was initiated in the postgraduate hostel. Around 2 am the hostel administration attempted another dialogue and was accused of harassing the students to shut the protest without meeting their demands.
The students have previously agitated against the curfew on women students, their inaccessibility to library after 10 pm., the biometric system of attendance, the installation of cameras inside the campus including the corridors, the inaccessibility of the campus from 10 pm to 6 am and the harassment by hostel guards (who were accused of asking unnecessary questions, and bothering parents with text messages informing them of the entry and exit timings of their children). The charter proposed by the students calls for an annihilation of this claustrophobic state of surveillance that students are subjected to, without any accountability on the part of the authorities.
In the face of the determination shown by the students, which has led to the continuation of the protest, the authorities have taken to stringent measures to clamp down on the student protestors. Afraid of the protesting students, the administration sprung into action by issuing a notice on October 11. The notice disallows the students from covering their faces on the campus and posting about the ongoing protest on social media.
The administration has taken to identifying the students and subsequently targeting them individually to create a sense of fear due to which the students have been forced to cover up their faces. The protest further intensified between October 11 and October 12 when male students were refused entry to the hostel, against which they protested by removing their clothes. The female students on the other hand were advised not to get influenced by their male counterparts and have been asked to produce a letter of apology for their behavior. Instead of a self-reflexive attitude towards the problem, the administration has upheld its unauthentic rules which restricts the freedom of the students and their right to privacy.
Along somewhat similar lines, last month, the Regional Institute of Education Bhopal also witnessed huge protests against the sexist hostel rules imposed on them. The women students stayed up all night in the basketball court to express their dissent on September 15. The administration, instead of responding to their demands through dialogue, chose to cut off the electricity and further make it difficult for the students to protest. The women students then turned to the police to seek permission to protest legally, who instead vouched for the administration, thus becoming their mouthpiece.
The women students have been troubled with the curfew that restricts the movement of the students after 7:00 p.m. These curfew timings vary, depending on sunlight and usually during the winter are rounded off to 5:30 or 5:45 p.m. The students now demand an end to the constant moral policing on part of the hostel administration and the removal of restrictive curfew timings.
However, amidst the struggle of students against the unfair curfew timings came news of victory from students of Kottayam Medical College who were successful in extending curfew timings from 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm. This victory comes as a result of repeated requests to the college Principal. Interestingly, these requests were not paid any attention initially and had been sidelined by providing the excuse that such decisions rested within P.T.A. meetings. The demands of the students can be considered basic as they wanted an extension only due to the inconvenience it caused selectively to female students; since no curfew timings were applicable for their male counterparts. Later, after repeated requests and continued protest by the female students the Vice Principal finally announced the extension of the curfew to 9:30 pm.
All of the above-mentioned protests against curfew rules have a pattern in which they unfold. Women have been at the forefront of these movements as they are the worst affected by sexist curfew rules designed to restrict their mobility on campus. In most cases, the administration has responded negatively to these protests, often initiating a crackdown on the students. This is also reflective of the fact that the administration has failed to view students as functional adults, capable of taking their own decisions and in most cases these functional adults seem to be women students.
While students have fearlessly continued their struggle, most mainstream media has presented an administration-centric account of these protests which they’ve rarely covered in the first place. Despite countrywide protests, the administrations have fallen short of realizing the need to attend to student demands, initiate dialogue and develop consensus, let alone concede to these demands. However, few struggles have achieved desired results like in the case of Punjab and Kottayam Medical College. These success stories continue to motivate the agitators in an onward direction.