The law too need not be necessarily on the side of the students who allege harsh punishments

What legal action can be taken against the prison-colleges of Tamil Nadu Whats the solutionImage: Tshrinivasan (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
news Monday, October 05, 2015 - 20:22
Written by  Pheba Mathew

Recently, a video was released online by some claiming to be alumni of Sri Sai Ram Engineering College alleging ill-treatment of students by the staff at the college. The video has been released following the recent protests in Chennai by students of the college, seeking action against the college by Anna University.

In the video, Lokanathan, Dinesh Kumar, Pradeep Durairaj, Zaufer Sadiq and an anonymous person who claim to have graduated from the college in 2007, talk about the various instances in which they were insulted and even beaten-up for violation of dress code. You can read about the allegations which have been made here, and about the protests here.

The prime target of the students’ campaign has been their campus manager Balu and the floor supervisors who act as the disciplinarians of the college. 

The News Minute has been consistently reporting and writing on the condition of students in several engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu, and in that context, while the individual instances of alleged violence against students have to be independently verified, many agree that colleges in Tamil Nadu have been excessively strict on their students.

But what institutional response can there be against erring colleges and deemed universities? Can the law crackdown suo motu on staff who have been accused of violence against students? Can Anna University, AICTE or UGC take action against the colleges? And what can they do, especially if parents and students are not willing to come forward with official complaints for the fear of a backlash?

As per All India Council for Technical Education (ACITE) norms and procedures, institutions running AICTE programmes or courses must have a Grievance Redressal Mechanism to redress the grievances of students, staff and faculty members.

“Since there is an inbuilt provision of redressal of grievances of students, staff and faculty member of AICTE approved institutions, students, staff and faculty members of these institutions should use this in house channel/mechanism for redressal of their grievances. In the first instance they should make representation to the institution concerned. They should approach AICTE only if the institution does not address their grievance.” The AICTE, therefore, clearly makes it clear that all grievances of the colleges must be treated, at least initially, as an internal matter.

The law too need not be necessarily on the side of the students who allege harsh punishments.

Justice K. Chandru, former Madras High Court judge says, “A University has just got supervisory power. Students can complain and then the university can enquire about it. Generally, there is limited power with the university.  Legally, the court will not intervene in the working of the college. There is nothing in writing in the law. Many private institutions have this style of functioning. They give a lot of power to the non-teaching staff. Collectively, the university should send out a team to know what is happening in the college.”

He also added, “The circular that was issued could be used and said that it was a reasonable restriction. The courts have usually taken a very conservative stand when it comes to students and colleges. Who will define what is reasonable?”

Kavitha Krishnan, Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association however believes that existing laws can be used to book the college owners and staff. “Legally, the college has no right to impose such arbitrary rules. There needs to be a transparency about what kind of rules they are implementing. And no college has the right to deny the fundamental rights. It is continuous surveillance, policing and violation of privacy,” she says.

She also states that there are instances of sexual harassment by the floor supervisors that the students have personally shared with her. “How can the college not have a committee against sexual harassment? The committee needs to have women participation from outside the college.  They have told the principal about it but the principal said that he himself is helpless about it,” says Kavitha.

Meanwhile, even as Anna University officials hold meetings with the management of Sri Sai Ram College on Monday, the chorus for a comprehensive enquiry by the University is getting louder.

Kavitha says that the university should set up a separate enquiry and simply going to the college won’t help. The college might prevent the protesting students to speak to them and simply bully some students in speaking of favour of them.

Gajendra Babu, an education activist also says that there must be a thorough University enquiry in such cases, adding that “The private colleges are not functioning like a college. Before this, problems have erupted in Sathyabama College and St. Joseph College but they were suppressed.  Anna University or other regulatory powers should do an independent enquiry with the students. They should also withdraw the transfer certificates issued against students.”

But the root of the problem, many say, is parenting.

“Many times the parents support the management as they think they get to control their children. It becomes an alternative disciplinary area. What they can’t do, they want the management to do,” says Justice Chandru.

“This is an issue of unfair social values enforced illegally by the colleges, and it is aggravated by parental violation of child rights. They believe they own their children. What the students who have narrated has little to do with education policy, it is just some bullies on the run,” says Baladevan Rangaraju, Founder Director of India Institute, a think tank which also works in the education sector.