Hugging row: Is liberal Kerala hurtling back to the dark ages

When a boy hugging a girl is all it takes for a school to kick them out, alarm bells should start ringing. Sadly, the episode at St Thomas Central School is no isolated incident.

Published: 19th December 2017 01:08 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th December 2017 11:44 PM   |  A+A-

By Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:  There is something rotten in the state of Kerala. When a boy hugging a girl is all it takes for a school to kick them out, alarm bells should start ringing. Sadly, the episode at St Thomas Central School is no isolated incident. Two years ago, Farook College restricted boys and girls from mingling on campus.  Recently, when students of Thiruvananthapuram Government Medical College sat together in the classroom, teachers saw red.

After basking in the limelight of being a liberal bastion and comparing itself with Scandinavian countries on Human Development Indices at the drop of a hat. Is the state hurtling back to the dark ages? If those at the helm of schools and colleges fail to grasp lessons from the backlash against gender segregation and moral policing, not even god can save God’s Own Country

Even as the alleged incident of moral policing in a city school - where a boy was expelled for hugging a girl student - is creating ripples, the boy’s parents approached Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan seeking his intervention in the issue. “We have given a representation to the Chief Minister’s office requesting him to take action against the school authorities for harassing my son. We have also requested to ensure he can continue his studies in the school,” said the teenager’s father. 

While the Class XII boy was expelled, the Class XI girl is under suspension from St Thomas Central School, Mukkolakkal. The triggering incident occurred in July. The boy was seen hugging the girl student after her performance at the school’s arts day celebrations.After an inquiry, the school authorities said the students indulged in an act that went against the disciplinary standards of the school. Mar Thoma Church Education Society secretary Rajan Varghese said, “It wasn’t a congratulatory hug. 

If we turn a blind eye to such acts of public affection in the school campus, it will set a precedence to indulge in such acts. The students were indulging in this act in full view of the students. The school has its own disciplinary standards.”While the inquiry was progressing, a few intimate pictures of the students which were shared in the boy’s Instagram account surfaced.“At first, we had decided to go easy and let them continue their studies after a brief period of suspension,” he added. But it was only after a few intimate pictures of the students got leaked and circulated among the students the school authorities decided to constitute an inquiry committee. 

Following the school’s decision to expel him, the boy approached the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights which passed an interim order that the students be allowed to continue their studies. The school, however, moved the High Court. The High Court quashed the Commission’s order to withdraw the suspension and stated the Commission had no power to pass such an interim order.“My child is a bit depressed now as the High Court judgment wasn’t in our favour, but we intend to move a division bench soon,” said the father. Rajan said the school don’t have a problem with letting the students write the exam if the CBSE or the High Court says so.

Derogatory statement to burning a chair

Kochi: In January, a similar issue had come up and paved the way for a massive protest when the principal of Maharaja’s College N L Beena allegedly stated girls come to college to cosy up with boys. This incident led to many protests including the burning of the principal’s chair, led by student activists. Six students were expelled in connection with the chair-burning incident. The issue stretched out on the campus for a few months and the principal had also gone on leave over the issue. All Kerala Government College Teachers’ Association had strongly condemned the principal’s statement.

Relief for medical students 

Thiruvananthapuram: Boy and girl students in the Thiruvananthapuram Medical college can sit together in class from now onwards. A meeting of teachers and students at the college on Monday took the decision after discussions were held at the instance of Health Minister K K Shylaja. The Health Minister had the other day sought a report on the controversy that certain faculty members of the medical college allegedly objected to girl and boy students of the first year MBBS class sitting together in class. She had also instructed to hold a discussion between the teachers and the students. The report is learned to favour the students. 

College principal Dr Thomas Mathew made it clear in the meeting the students had all the freedom and they could sit anywhere they liked. The students will not have any issues in future with respect to the issue, he said. Meanwhile, the students said they were happy the college authorities had taken such a decision. 

Two weeks ago, a section of faculty members had objected against first-year girls and boys students sitting together in the classroom. The students had started sitting together after attending a seminar on gender sensitisation. The parents of the students who defied the teachers were even summoned to the college.

After this, a general body of the parent-teacher association was called to discuss the issue. In the meeting, there were arguments in support and against the stand of the teachers. However, the PTA finally decided not to impose any restrictions on the students sitting together.It has to be noted the Health Minister intervened in the issue after the students on December 15 protested against the stand taken by some of the heads of departments.  

Former Pro vice-chancellor MG University speaks 

Kottayam: The famed Pallikoodam school  considered as one of the most liberal school campuses in the state, follows a ‘one-metre’ regulation.  “We have to take steps to see a healthy relationship does not deteriorate into one that is unacceptable... Towards this end, the distance of about one metre shall be maintained at all times between a boy and a girl,” says the school website. “While Western countries are prompting boys and girls to sit together and share personal matters, we are far behind,” said former pro vice-chancellor of M G University Dr Sheena Shukkur. 

The trauma I underwent has been too much for a 16-year-old. I joined only in Class XI, so studied for just about one-and-a-half months at the school. The school authorities embarked on a spiteful campaign against me. I was abused and they shamed my family. The trauma was excruciating. I used to slip into depression. My friends pulled me through. I petitioned the child rights commission against the harassment and requested them to help me write my Class XI exam. I really hope I get to continue Class XII in a safe environment Class XI girl student

Speaking to Express, the boy’s father spoke of how the students were harassed by the school authorities. “The school authorities had given him three chargesheets. It was as if they already decided to take action. As far as the Instagram pictures are concerned, there’s no vulgar or obscene pictures. Also, how can the school authorities take pictures from their private Instagram accounts?  Isn’t that a violation of privacy? Later, they even came out with a chat record alleging it’s between the two students.”  

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