While the college has brought up the ‘parents-won’t-allow’ bogey, a student has called the college’s bluff at the Kerala High Court.

Regressive rules curfews The fight for womens equality in Sree Kerala Varma collegeA poster by SFI against curfew.
news Regressive Rules Thursday, December 28, 2017 - 15:57

Anjitha K Jose is a third year student at the prestigious Sree Kerala Varma college in Kerala’s Thrissur district.

The student has approached the Kerala High Court with a writ petition alleging that the college – known to be one of the historical and cultural landmarks of the state – was in fact stifling her fundamental rights.

Anjitha has objected to rules set by hostels situated inside campus that heavily curtailed the freedom of girl students.

Anjitha

According to the hostel rules, girls need to rush to hostel immediately after class. The classes end at 3.30pm and the female students need to enter hostel by 4.30pm on all days, except Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays the hostel gate would close at 6pm. On Sundays and public holidays, students are not allowed to go outside. On Saturdays, the students are allowed to go out only between 3.30pm and 6pm.

“Notably, these rules are only applicable to the female inmates, and inapplicable to the male hostel inmates,” Anjitha’s petition says.

Calling it blatant discrimination on the basis of gender, Anjitha in her petition told the HC that the rules are an infringement of the right to equality guaranteed under the Constitution of India.

“All of us chose Kerala Varma College as we had heard about its commitment to society. But after studying here, we have realised that the college doesn’t allow female students to make any kind of progress outside classrooms, that would help them grow as individuals. There are no time restrictions for the male students, though UGC rules stipulate that the rules should be same for both boys and girls,” Anjitha Jose said.

Not just curfews, but clause 22 of hostel rules (a copy of which is with TNM) states that female hostel students cannot take part in political meetings, processions or propaganda in the hostel.

Anjitha has told the HC that such a restriction was violative of a person’s fundamental right to form associations and freely speak and express oneself, protected under Article 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(c) of the Constitution of India.

Speaking to TNM, she says that a few hostel authorities, mainly two matrons, would threaten students with expulsion if they raised their voices against them. “A few students, including me, complained to the college Principal seeking to lift the restrictions. But the Principal took the stand that it can’t be done. The argument was that it was not appropriate for an Arts and Science College to do away with restrictions,” the 20-year old tells TNM.

"The ban on political activities prevails only at the ladies hostels and the SFI is against it. We support Anjitha for the issues she raised. The SFI had launched a protest against the curfew last year in the 'break the curfew',” says former college union General Secretary and SFI leader Abhishek PR.

Other restrictions

The time restrictions have ‘unduly restrained women within the campus under the pretense of safety issues. The ability to go for co-curricular, extra-curricular, or self-development activities, such as volunteering activities at NGOs, competitions not conducted by the college, classes for arts, etc., which may extend into the evening, is severely impaired,’ says the petition..

“Last year four students had attended a child rights conference in Thiruvananthapuram during a weekend, and they were subjected to personal abuse by the hostel authorities. A lot of programmes are happening in Thrissur like the Vibgyor film festival. We haven’t ever got an opportunity to attend any of these. Sahitya Academy is situated just kilometers away. Even students of Literature or Political Science are not allowed to attend sessions there. Is the purpose of education just attending classes, studying what is in textbooks only?” she asks.

Hostel authorities also have the right to expel students who behave mischievously.

“They have threatened students who have raised their voices that they will be thrown out of the hostel, and even from the college. Strangely they haven’t given a definition for what is ‘mischievous’,” she says.

Boarders are not permitted to go home during weekly holidays, except in special cases when the permission of the warden or the resident tutor can be obtained.

A final year graduate student of BA Functional English, Anjitha has been living in the hostel for three years. “The International Theatre Festival is coming in January. How can we expect that we will be allowed to go? Our demand is that the rules should be changed completely,” she says.

The college library closes at 3.30 pm, and clubbed with hostel curfew, it makes it almost impossible for girl students to access the library, says Anjitha.

A collective of law students called the Legal Collective of Students Rights has helped Anjitha approach the High Court.

The college meanwhile has justified their restrictions. “Whatever measures we have taken are intended at ensuring the safety of the students. They were framed at a meeting with the parents in January last year, and had the acceptance of many of the parents. We haven’t issued any circular in that regard, but a copy of the rules is distributed to the students and parents at the time they take admission in the hostel,” College Principal Professor CM Latha told TNM.

The rules, she says, all there in all female hostels. “No parents would allow to extend the timing. The rules here are the same that exist in any other college hostel. The students are allowed to attend programmes outside the campus with the permission of their parents and also for non-academic activities. We close the college blocks in the evening, for the safety of students. It’s a vast campus and the blocks are surrounded by deserted areas, we have no other option but to close the blocks in the evening,” she says.

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