Powerful testimonies of students impacted by gendered rules in Tamil Nadu colleges

Regressive rules in TN colleges are killing spirits hurting careers of girls finds surveyFile photo: PTI
Features Thursday, October 06, 2016 - 20:21

Sample this

“Not being able to move around freely even in the college thanks to too many rules was suffocating. I was once called in to an 'enquiry' for talking to a male student: the 'student' was a young male professor only a few years our senior. That was how ridiculous the rules were. Not being able to travel to other colleges for culturals or symposia, not being able to socialize with our friends, it was all psychologically damaging. Living in a room with permanently closed windows in the middle of summer was torture. The repeated character assault on women was absolutely demeaning. Our clothes, our walking style, out accessories, our manner of speaking, everything was criticized. It is simply inhuman.”- Alumnus, Kamaraj College of Engineering, Virudhunagar

Or this.

“Girls have curfew. Because of that they have missed out on selection exams conducted after curfew time. Some were not allowed to go home to write GRE.”- Alumnus of SASTRA University, Thanjavur

 These are just two among the numerous testimonies shared by a survey conducted to understand gendered curfews and other restrictions that colleges impose on students, and how it impacts them.

And while the survey carried out by Bhargavi Suryanarayanan, a Humanities student at IIT-Madras, and Vandana Venkatesh, a lawyer, focused on colleges in Tamil Nadu, it could very well hold true for multiple institutions across the country.

The idea for the survey stemmed from a Facebook post that Bhargavi had written earlier this year narrating a similar personal experience that made her feel “like a second-class citizen” leaving her “angry, depressed and trapped”. “We wanted to do something about the discrimination we face in colleges,” says Bhargavi.

Vandana, who was in the national capital when the Pinjra Tod campaign was taking shape, thought that most such activities are Delhi-centric. As someone who hails from Chennai, Vandana felt that Tamil Nadu, with its huge education sector, also needed a similar kind of initiative.

“Instead of making a petition, we wanted to first understand the issue and decided to collect responses,” says Vandana.

Some of the responses left them with a sense of disbelief. Bharavi talks about how one female student was slapped in full public view when she questioned the rules, but no one near them twitched a muscle.

The survey found that:

1. "Gendered rules stunt the academic growth of female students"

A large number of female students and a few male ones said that the differential curfew rules affected their academic performance and their personal growth as well.

Women were mostly not allowed to go to libraries after curfew timings, whereas male students had more liberal rules. It also restricted women from pursuing internships, part-time work and even co-curricular activities.


2. “It has an adverse effect on the mental health of the students in such hostels”.

Hostels in many colleges are almost like prisons with insane rules. Female students living in college hostels said they were clinically depressed and some were even undergoing treatment for the same. They felt “restricted, caged, claustrophobic” and a few “even suicidal”.

Not many take the step of questioning the authorities, given the power equation at play, and students are scared of punishments- whether their grades being affected, or other forms of penalty such as body shaming, moral policing, character-assassination by wardens, etc.  

“The right to a dignified accommodation is necessary to safeguard the mental health of the residents of a hostel,” the survey report states.


3. "It reduces female autonomy and the notion women are people capable of thinking for themselves".

Rules in hostel are generally skewed towards women in the name of ensuring their “safety”. However, many respondents felt that these very rules served as a clampdown on their liberty.


So what do the students want? Equal rules for both men and women, is what many voiced. “We understand the risks posed by men, but that's their problem and not our fault,” a few others felt. Having clear cut rules for students and powers of wardens, having a gender neutral environment at college and hostels, a platform to address grievances on campus in a non-judgmental way were some of the other suggestions made. 

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