Faheema Shirin was expelled from college hostel for refusing to follow the rule that women staying there should not use mobile phones from 6 pm to 10 pm.

How a Kerala student won the fight against restrictions on mobile use in hostel
news Student rights Saturday, September 21, 2019 - 16:23

Faheema Shirin’s single act of defiance has given a big boost for student rights after the Kerala High Court ruled in her favour. A second year BA Literature student at SN College in Chelannur in Kozhikode, Faheema was expelled from her college hostel in July for refusing to follow the rule that the women staying there should not use mobile phones between 6pm and 10pm. But in a victory not just for Faheema, but for other students as well, the Kerala High Court termed the restrictions as ‘unreasonable’.

In its order on September 19, Justice PV Asha of the Kerala High Court said, “Imposing of such restrictions is unreasonable and therefore the respondent shall re-admit the petitioner in the hostel without any further delay.” Quoting the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, the High Court also recognised the right to internet as a fundamental freedom.

Speaking to TNM after the verdict, Faheema says, “In the first year, when I joined, the restriction on mobile phones in women’s hostel were from 10pm to 6am. We are to surrender our phones during these hours to the matron. When we spoke to them about changing this rule, we were told that it can be considered the next year. After a year, the restrictions were initially removed but then a new rule came that phones should be surrendered between 6pm and 10pm.”.

The principal had said that the new decision came after parents of the students inquired about restricting the use of mobile phones and threatening to take their children to other hostels or colleges if there are no restrictions. In the counter affidavit filed by the principal in the HC, it stated, “On receiving complaints from parents regarding the excessive usage of mobile phones in the hostel for women, a meeting was convened on 19.06.2019 in which it was unanimously decided to restrict the use of mobile phones from 6 pm to 10 pm from 20.06.2019 onwards in order to see that students are utilising their study time for study purposes only.”

‘Students are adults, can decide how and when to study’

The High Court, however, said, “The college authorities as well as parents should be conscious of the fact that the students in a college hostel are adults who are capable of taking decisions as to how and when they have to study.” The order stated, “If a restriction is unreasonable and arbitrary and infringes the fundamental right of an inmate, it cannot be said that the student has to abide by such restriction, especially when the inmate is an adult.”

The restrictions, Faheema says, are only applicable to the women’s hostel and not the men’s hostel. In her petition, she argued that ‘such restrictions are imposed only in the girls’ hostel and therefore it amounts to discrimination based on gender, in violation of Clause 5 of student entitlement guidelines issued by the University Grants Commission (UGC), which prohibits gender discrimination.”

It is also stated that the UGC (Promotion of Equity in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2012 mandates the college authorities to take appropriate measures to safeguard the interests of the students without subjecting them to discrimination based on gender, caste, creed, religion, language etc. The principal’s counter affidavit, however, said that there are restrictions on men’s hostel as well although the duration is different.

‘Fact that others obeyed it doesn’t make a restriction legal’

Faheema points out that many students who come to the hostel may not be financially sound, which is why they choose to stay despite the restrictions. “They may not be able to afford rents for other hostels and therefore put up with the restrictions without raising objections. That is the case with the undergraduate students. However, some of the PG students had sent a request to the principal to relax the restrictions on the phone. The request was not accepted and a WhatsApp message was sent, saying that the students who have a problem with the restrictions may vacate the hostel and find other places to stay. So, then the PG students surrendered the phone to the matron but I didn’t. The deputy warden reported this to the principal who then called me. I was made to sign a statement that I am not ready to follow the hostel rule of surrendering the phone from 6 pm to 10 pm,” she says.

The counter affidavit mentions this statement signed by Faheema and says, “Out of the 44 students in the hostel excluding the 4 students, who are studying for B.Ed course/who are on leave, all the remaining 39 students agreed to abide by the instructions and to surrender the mobile phone between 6pm and 10pm.”

The court order brushes away the argument, saying, “The fact that no other student objected to the restriction or that all others obeyed the instructions will not make a restriction legal if it is otherwise illegal. No student shall be compelled either to use mobile phone or not to use mobile phone. It is for each of the students to decide with self-confidence and self-determination that she would not misuse it and that she would use it only for improving her quality of education.”

Supportive parents

Faheema had kept her parents informed of all that was going on. They have been supportive of her decision to not surrender the phone. “They were asked to come to the hostel and we were asked to vacate the hostel on our own. We said we won’t do that. So then they took two days to think about it and said I am being expelled,” Faheema says.

It is exam time at the college now and Faheema has not heard back from the college or hostel authorities after the court order came on September 19. She, however, says she will return to the hostel after the exams.

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