College students across India, aged 18 years and above, are more often treated like children under the protective custody of educational institutions. Female students, in particular, are often expected to adhere to regressive rules set by a college authority – whether it’s a curfew imposed on them or even whether to decide what political activity they should engage in.
It is this practice that the Kerala High Court has questioned and ruled over in an order dated February 21, 2019. Dismissing the argument that college hostel rules are signed by parents of students, Justice A Muhamed Mustaque in his order states, “The petitioner is an adult. Her right to question cannot be compromised based on parental consent. Even if the parent had signed, instruction cannot be violative of fundamental rights.”
The High Court’s judgement is based on a 2017 petition by Anjitha K Jose, then a third year Bachelors student at the prestigious Sree Kerala Varma College in Thrissur district. Anjitha had moved the court stating that the college’s hostel rules were stifling her fundamental rights.
Among the four hostel rules that Anjitha had listed as violation of rights, two have now been struck down by the High Court. These include:
No member of the hostel shall take active part in political meetings, processions or propaganda.
Boarders may be permitted to attend pictures or other entertainments only on the day notified by the warden. No boarder shall be permitted to go for the first and second show pictures.
Striking down “Instruction 22”, which banned hostel students from taking part in political meetings, the High Court observed, “It is the fundamental right of every citizen to have its own political views as part of the freedom of expression. That can be only reasonably restricted for securing any objectives of the management of the hostel. Since it has no relation with power conferred with the management, I find this instruction has to be struck down as violative of fundamental rights of the petitioners.”
While striking down the instructions regarding a student’s right to watch movies, Justice Mustaque stated, “It appears that moral choice of the management is attempted to be imposed upon the Boarders. The moral paternalism is something to be frowned upon. A girl is having equal freedom similar to a boy. There are no similar restriction in the boy’s hostel. It is for the students to decide whether they should go for first or second show movies or not. This is an activity outside the hostel activity.”
Two other instructions – about students remaining in hostel during college hours without the warden’s permission and the warden’s power to suspend or dismiss any student from the hostel for being ‘mischievous’ or ‘irregular’ or ‘unpunctual’, have not been struck down. “The very purpose of issuing instruction is to maintain the discipline and decorum in the college hostel,” reads the order.
Anjitha had also called out the hostel curfew for its blatant discrimination towards female students. As per the hostel rules, female students needed to enter hostel by 4.30 pm, an hour after their classes end on all days except Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays. On these days, the hostel gate would close at 6pm. On Sundays and public holidays, students are not allowed to go outside.
However, the High Court refused to interfere into the curfew, stating it was up to the college Principal to consider the matter.
Lack of clarity
Speaking to TNM, Anjitha, who graduated from Sree Kerala Varma College last year, says, “The first two years, we tried to have the rules changed from within the college. It is only when it did not give any result that we approached the court. As soon as the students are admitted into the hostel, they are given a booklet with these rules.”
Anjitha, however, noted, “There is no clarity on the timing of the curfew.” And while she has left the college, the judgement would now affect scores of others, who are still studying there.
Sayana, a second year B.Sc. student, says, “I am a day scholar but I have found the restrictions too much. They (the hostelers) couldn’t even go out four days a week. So I welcome the court order.”
However, hostel students at the Sree Kerala Varma College say the court order has added to their confusion over rules. Salmath, a final year Bachelors student and hosteler, says, “While two of the instructions have been struck down, it is not clear what the new curfew will be. The court says that it is up to the management to decide that. But to take part in political activities or go out for movies in the evening, we need to know what the curfew would be, and if we are late to come back from those activities, would disciplinary action be taken against us?”
She also added that college authorities did not hold a discussion with the students following the High Court order. “We plan to meet the college principal on Monday and get some clarity on it,” says the student.