Confirming all the new regulations but the restriction on male-female interaction, college authorities told TNM that the rules were for students’ welfare.

After sexual assault by students Ktaka college bars phones male-female interactionImage for representation
news Gender Thursday, July 25, 2019 - 16:20

Earlier this month, five students of a college in Puttur in Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada district were arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman studying in the same college. They circulated the video, and the complainant - the survivor - revealed that the men had sexually assaulted her in the end of March.

Needless to say, the incident shook the college students and the administration. However, the college authorities’ response to the incident has been to impose restrictions on students’ movements and communication, rather than sensitising them.

The new regulations

The new regulations announced last week include barring students from bringing mobiles to the campus and from leaving the campus during college hours. The students have also been told to completely vacate the campus post the class hours. They are also mandated to either avail the lunch services (yet to be arranged) within the campus or bring their own meals. The college authorities confirmed these regulations to TNM.

The students were miffed by these new regulations and staged a protest against them last Wednesday. The next day, students found that the authorities had locked the main gate of the college. "A few teachers and the campus security at the gates asked us to go back, and we were not told when the classes would resume," a student of the college said.

Justifying the move, the President of the Management of College, said that all the measures were brought in keeping in mind the students’ welfare. “The student and parents must agree to follow the new rules and regulations that will aid in creating a safe and conducive educational environment for all, and only after that we can talk about the continuity of their academics," he said.

Some students, under the condition of anonymity, also told TNM that authorities have orally communicated that there cannot be any interaction between boys and girls. The college authorities, however, denied that they had given such an instruction.

Nuanced approach to sexual crimes 

While the college authorities did not specifically say that these new moves were put in place in reaction to the sexual assault, education and gender experts say that institutions must avoid knee-jerk reactions and instead take a nuanced approach to sexual crime and conflict between genders.

Dr Sangeeta Saksena, Co-founder at Enfold Proactive Health Trust, said that a crime is a symptom of a disease, and generally, it cannot be fixed by yet another rule, punishment or a knee-jerk reaction. “It's a bigger issue that requires a lot of life skills and education. By life skills, I mean, self-awareness, respect, responsibility, and accountability.  These are the things that need to be built into our parenting, into our education, right from preschool and higher schooling onwards,” she said.

According to her, we require a much more participatory approach to tackling gender based violence. “If a crime has been committed, all those impacted by the crime including the college staff, the management, the wide body of students, the student council and possibly parents need to be involved. They all need to come together and discuss and arrive at  various actionable ways, so that such a thing is prevented and doesn’t happen again."

Dr Rita Noronha, Director, Centre for Development Studies and Education (CEDSE), said that gender issues are highly complex, and introducing new rules does not ensure that an incident of sexual violence doesn’t recur. “While most educational institutions are structured to focus around good marks, ranks and employability, schools must also focus on sensitising students on gender education at a very early stage. This will not only create a gender-friendly environment at campuses, but also help them to co-exist with male or female colleagues at their workplace in the future. The impact of gender-sensitisation studies by educational institutions has a longer, larger and better impact on the society,” she said.

She adds that students aren’t truly educated if they come out with socially-insensitive mind-set. “They must be apprised of the ill-effects of injustices on women that come along with patriarchal and gender-biased thought processes. The students who come out with critical questioning, social awareness, imbibe new patterns of thinking. This will enable boys and girls to interact freely and safely, and eventually remove the unwanted apprehensions.”

Students agreeing under pressure?

The college authorities, however, are unmoved by 'external criticism' as most parents have reconciled with the decisions taken by the college.

"On Monday, about 25% of parents and students visited the campus and agreed to the rules. By Wednesday, almost 90% were in agreement. The wards have spoken to the class teachers and resumed their studies. There are a few more students whose parents are supposed to reach from other districts. They have confirmed that they will meet with the faculty by Saturday," the principal said.

Students, however, alleged that the college authorities have involved their parents in order to quell dissent. A member of the student alumni said, "As both parents and students did not want to risk their academics by being barred by the college, they have agreed."

(Story by Story Infinity (Subs and Scribes Media Ventures LLP.)

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