Kerala’s Aluva UC college students continue to fight against misogynistic management

For the current and former female students of Aluva UC College, their fight is not just against the rigid hostel rules, but against the apathy of the management towards them, especially in cases of sexual harassment
Kerala’s Aluva UC college students continue to fight against misogynistic management
Kerala’s Aluva UC college students continue to fight against misogynistic management
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For the last few years, female students residing in five hostels of the Union Christian College in Kerala’s Aluva have been struggling to reform the antiquated rules of the college hostels. The rules are misogynistic and illegal, say student organisations and hostel residents. In fact, over the past few days, they have intensified their demand, distributing leaflets and pasting posters on the campus, stating that the rules are anti-women.

From unrealistic curfews to having to submit numerous consent letters, female students have been questioning the hostel rules, or the “hostel discipline” as the circular states. While the rules apply to both male and female students, many allege that these are often enforced only for the latter, while it remains “on paper” for the male residents.

In April 2019, the Kerala government had extended the curfew of women’s hostels attached to all government colleges to 9.30 pm. Being a government-aided college, the students have been demanding that UC College, too, follow the government-prescribed curfew. Currently, 6 pm is the curfew for the women’s hostel at UC College, while it is 6.30 pm for the men’s hostel. They can get an extension till 9 pm after seeking permission from the warden in the prescribed form, stating the reason and destination. However, many female students allege that the rules are brushed aside for male residents and that they are still let into the hostel even after the curfew time.

The tedious rules

Mathrukam UCC, a women's wing of the Student Federation of India, has been distributing posters and leaflets against the rulebook in the hostels. Even for academic purposes, students are allowed to go out late only if a teacher, guardian, or parent accompanies them, the students allege.

For academic programmes or courses on weekends, students need to get the Principal's permission and submit a consent letter from the parents. The student also has to submit a letter from the course director, indicating the nature and timing of the course, the rules say. They are also not allowed to leave the hostel with a visitor, other than parents or guardians.

Even to leave the hostels on holidays, students allege that they have to go through the rigmarole of securing permissions. "We are not allowed to leave the hostel on weekends or holidays. We are allowed to go out on Saturday afternoon, for a few hours. The rest of the time, we have to spend in the hostel. If we go home for holidays, they send an SMS to our parents as soon as we leave the campus. Our parents will have to do the same, send a text message soon after we leave home for the hostel. We are not allowed to go anywhere else after classes, so we need to reach the hostel soon after we leave the college building,” claims a student resident of the college.

"We have given petitions to the principal seeking reformation of rules. But no action has been taken yet," alleges Tessa, another student from the college. She further adds, “Imagine not being allowed to leave the hostel on public holidays.”

Sexual harassment complaints get ignored

For the current and former female students of the college, their fight is not just against the rigid hostel rules, but against the apathy of the management towards them, especially in cases of sexual harassment, where their allegations are brushed off as mere “misunderstandings.” And they have been using every platform and occasion possible to highlight and question the callous attitude of the UC College management towards the female students.

On November 11 this year, Mileena Shaji, a BA History student who secured the first rank from Mahatma Gandhi University, even rejected the Sri K Narayana Menon Memorial Award given by the university over its apathy towards women.

Just seven months before Mileena rejected the award, a former student of the college alleged that she was sexually harassed by a teacher of the English Department. Around 200 alumni students of the college had sent a letter to the principal extending support to the survivor, and also specifying many such experiences at the hands of the teacher, who is, incidentally, a Kerala State Film Award winner for his book.

Though the management removed the teacher from the post of the Head of Department (HoD), he continued to teach in the college, without facing any actions. Moreover, an internal inquiry on the allegations gave him a clean chit, stating the complaints about the behaviour of the teacher were out of “misunderstanding” and that he will try to address it.

"We do remember how a sexual predator who traumatised many women students is still occupying a respectable teaching position in the college. We do remember how the Internal Committee (formerly known as the Internal Complaints Committee) dismissed the complaints regarding the ragging of a 13-year-old (daughter of a professor) on the campus. We do remember the hostel rules that are utterly oppressive and shockingly sexist. We also remember how the IC has utterly disregarded our concerns and has been always taking the side of the oppressor," Mileena wrote in a letter to the Principal, rejecting her award.

In her letter, Mileena refers to an incident where a female assistant professor at the college had raised a serious allegation against the college authorities, stating that the latter did not take any action against a senior student who misbehaved with her 13-year-old daughter on the college campus.

"Should we raise a potential rapist,” the assistant professor asked in a Facebook post. The incident happened on March 17, 2021. "No one can be justified for uttering an obscene comment looking at the body of a 13-year-old girl. It's been 10 days since I filed the complaint (with college authorities). No action was taken. Also, the silence of teachers in the college, except for a few, was as expected. Many don't even find this as a problem," the professor wrote.

However, a few months later, the IC released its findings on the harassment of a 13-year-old girl on campus. Papicha, an Instagram page opened by former students of UC College to protest against the college, alleged that the IC report stated that the 13-year-old girl “misunderstood” the friendly talk of the senior student and “it was her imagination.”

“It is quite alarming that 'misunderstandings' happen only to women who complain,” Papicha reacted to the ICC report.

No student on IC

Per University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines, all universities must have an IC to deal with sexual harassment, and these committees should have staff and students as members.

"I studied in college from 2014 to 2017, and we had never heard about an IC in the college, though they claimed it has been in existence since 2013. They never publicise, conduct workshops, or give awareness on IC. Moreover, as per rules, IC should have a student representative, but there is no student on it even today. As a result, students don't know where to complain or whom to approach," says Malavika, an alumna of the college. 

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