Last week, the Kerala High Court dismissed a petition by a female student challenging her dismissal from Mar Thoma College of Science and Technology, Chadayamangalam, for eloping with a classmate and staying with him in a lodge. While the Supreme Court declared live-in relationships as an “acceptable” and non-criminal norm in 2015, commentators say, the Kerala court’s decision comes as a reinforcement of prevailing moralistic dogmas.
Aleyamma Vijayan, co-founder of Sakhi Women's Resource Centre, Kerala, which researches and documents women’s issues, said she does not understand why the High Court supported the college management's decision.
Stating that the judgment is "moralistic" in nature, she said, "We live in a society that has patriarchal notions of morality and the court and judges too are influenced by these".
She feels that if two adults want to live together, that is their personal decision and instead of wanting to set an example by expelling the students, the college could have sorted the issue out by speaking to their parents.
Devika J, of the Center for Development Studies in Thiruvanthapuram also said that the judgment is one everyone ought to protest against, for it was impinging on the fundamental rights of two consenting adults.
“This judgment has long standing implications for all young people,” she said, adding that student groups in Kerala should voice their anger against it.
Both Devika and Aleyamma maintain that this is not the first time moral policing has taken place in colleges.
“Many times even if students are not rusticated, college authorities call their parents and pressure them into withdrawing their children from the college,” says Devika.
The girl and boy in question were both in the fourth semester of their Bachelor’s degree in Arts (English Language and Literature). They were reportedly living in a lodge in Thiruvanthapuram before they were found by the police and released to their parents.
The court in its judgment observed, "This is not a mere case of falling in love; but two students taking the drastic step of eloping and living together without even contracting a marriage. As consenting adults they could definitely act according to their volition. But, here they could not have even legally entered into a marriage. When taking such drastic step for the sake of love, as adults, they should also be ready to face the consequences."
"The Management's concern of setting an example to the other students and ensuring maintenance of discipline in the educational institution cannot be easily brushed aside," it added.
The boy, who was not of marriageable age, was expelled from the college, as was the girl. The petitioner – the girl – said that while she could be accused of falling in love with a batch mate, it did not substantiate her being expelled from college, especially because she was in the fourth semester of the six-semester course. The petitioner also said that she had an excellent academic record.