Segregation of male and female students is often the norm in several schools and colleges across the country, with parents and their wards accepting this unwritten rule. But a batch of students in a medical college in Kerala decided not only to defy this accepted convention, but protested this segregation with its instituteās faculty.
It began a month ago, when students of the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College decided to sit together.
According to students of the college who spoke to TNM, boys sit on the left side of the classroom, while the girls sit on the right side. However, when students of first year MBBS decided to sit together, this did not go down well with a few faculty members, who took objection to it, claiming that boys and girls sitting together in class was not appropriate.
Weeks after the students defied the unwritten code, a committee set up by the college principal to study the issue has on Monday vindicated their stand stating that there was nothing wrong in boys and girls sitting together.
This has, however, come weeks after the college allegedly went on a witch hunt against students who defied the college.
How it all started
In the last week of November, the first year MBBS students were given a lecture on gender by Anishia Jayadev, a faculty member of the Institute of Management in Government. Among other things, Anishia said that if gender sensitivity were to be achieved, it should begin with boys and girls mingling with each other and sharing spaces.
Following this, the students, who were till then bound by strict seating arrangements, decided to sit mixed in class.
Speaking to TNM, a first-year student who requested anonymity said that their action angered some staff who threatened not to evaluate their examination papers.
The issue escalated when a postgraduate student took to Facebook criticising staff who prevented the students from sitting together. In her post, the PG student called out the faculty members for their outdated and primitive outlook and questioned the logic behind mandating that girls and boys should not sit together.
While her post received support from social media users and students of the college, it also snowballed into another controversy.
"Many students had liked and commented on the PG student's post and a few days later, a parent-teacher meeting was called. In this meeting, the faculty members got print outs of this FB post and pulled out those parents whose children had liked and commented on the post. The faculty members argued that the students' intention wasn't right and demanded that the students unlike or unfriend the senior who posted the message, claiming that she was a bad influence," a fourth-year student told TNM.
While the post was put up in the PG student's individual capacity, it was unfair to target the students who liked the post, the student pointed out.
"While most of the students succumbed to the pressure and unfriended the senior, four students resisted. Another meeting was called and one student's mother even broke down while her child was being picked on," the student said.
Last week, the students took out a protest march in the college against the treatment, following which, Health Minister KK Shylaja sought a report from the college principal in the matter. The minister said that gender discrimination cannot be tolerated.
College in denial
However, the college management has consistently denied that there's a ban on boys and girls sitting together. Denying that the college questioned the students for sitting together, Principal Thomas Mathew said, "We will inquire and take necessary action based on the students' complaints. We are a college that has a progressive outlook. In this case, it was only one faculty member who questioned the students, but that was not for sitting together. In a bench that can accommodate 8 students, as many as 14 students were sitting and that's what the faculty member raised objection to."
However, a faculty member of the college said that some teachers had indeed questioned the students for sitting together.
"I am rather shocked to learn that a group of teachers have taken the initiative to call a parent-teacher meeting to persuade the students of first MBBS Class to sit separately. The students see the naked cadaver just one week after they come into campus. They learn together in dissection hall. They learn together in each and every instance. They are adults. They are studying for a professional course. In the hospital and clinics, they sit together in all lecture halls. The whole essence of medical science itself is to go beyond any sort of discrimination including gender," Santhosh SS, a faculty member wrote on Facebook.
'This is how it happened'
On Sunday, Anishia Jayadev, who took the class on gender to the students, took to Facebook to share her side of the issue.
"I spoke to them about the importance of having co-education institutions and perhaps because such topics never seem to feature in our academics, the students ardently listened to my class. Next day when I knew the students had taken the initiative to sit together, I was curious. I felt it was a great move. Girl students were finally beginning to react. But their teachers tried vehemently to discourage them," Anishia stated.