KOCHI: On Monday, around 80 woman students of the four hostels of UC College, Aluva, staged a protest and they decided to opt 5.30pm to around 10.30pm as the timing for it. The reason: The rules there insist they should reach the hostel by 6pm. And they are not allowed to get out on Sundays and public holidays even during daytime. The women find the rules regressive and discriminatory and a violation of human rights. They plan to approach court if the authorities fail to take a favourable decision. Emilla John, 22, an MSc Zoology student, said ‘lifting the curfew’ has been a long-pending demand.
“Protest was our last option after everything else failed. The students of all four hostels met the principal on November 21. She told us she cannot take a decision unilaterally and has to discuss it with the governing council,” said Emilla. But to the dismay of students, she did not discuss it at its next meeting. When they contacted the manager, he said he was not aware of any issues regarding the timings.
“The college authorities agreed to meet us only after the police got involved and the MLA came to the protest site. We were given a written agreement that the governing council would meet on January 3 to discuss our demands,” she added. The students have also given a petition to the MG University vice-chancellor and to the students’ grievance council. Along with the written rules, the warden mandates many unwritten ones at the
hostel, Emilla said. “I had to go home one day at 6.30pm. My parents called up the hostel to seek permission as per the rules. However, after I left, the residential warden called up my parents and said there is no need for me to travel after 6.30pm. It’s like they are not considering women as adults. They constantly infantilise us, saying we can’t take care of ourselves. The hostel authorities refer to the time after 6pm as “asamayam”, which is commonly used in Kerala to lock women inside in the four walls of a building,” Emilla said.
“This is all happening despite the High Court order in 2019 that asked colleges to extend the women’s hostel curfew to 9.30pm,” says Emilla. Maharaja’s College, Cusat and some other colleges have adhered to the order. When contacted, Director of Collegiate Education V Vigneshwari said the curfew should be the same for all students. “Rules have to be equal for all the sections of society, be it men or women,” she said.
Establishing different rules for students based on gender is a common practice in the country, especially in Kerala, many feel. “In the men’s hostel, the official curfew is 6.30pm, but they are allowed to stay out till 9.30pm. The boys didn’t join our protest as they would have feared their rights might also be taken away if they join us,” said UC College BA History student Reshmi J.
“It’s not just about curfew. We have two demands. One to extend the hostel timings in accordance with the HC order. Also allow girls to go out of the hostel during daytime on Sundays and public holidays. We have been demanding this for more than four years, but it was the first time that we staged a protest,” said Reshmi. Earlier, students were allowed to go out on Saturdays in the forenoon but later it was made a ‘working day’.
“We cannot go to a movie or even leave for home after 6pm. The petition to the High Court by a student of Sree Kerala Varma College, Thrissur, mentions her right to go for a film from the hostel. I don’t know why hostels, educational institutions and society, as a whole, think it is wrong for women to go out at night,” said Reshmi.
“The college authorities and even the police ask what is the need for girls to go out at night. First of all, it’s our right. You can’t say we can ask for it only when there is a need for it. It has to be our choice. If all the caring people leave us alone, then we will be safer on our streets,” she added.
Reshmi pointed out another regressive practice at the hostel. “They used to lock the gates of the hostel after 9am. They said anyone who leaves the hostel after 9.30am is going to the city and not to the college. The security guards wouldn’t allow us to leave. They changed the rule this week after we protested strongly by jumping over the gate,” said Reshmi. She added the comments by men on social media under the videos of their protests were very regressive. “They are cursing us. Many ask why do we need to go out at night,” she said.
Another student Tessa Sarah Kuriakose said authorities had broken up an earlier protest using threats. “In 2016, the college authorities told protesting students that would inform their parents and many of them backed out. But we stood firm this time. After the news came in the media, some parents have been acting strict with their children. Many students have said they are scared to join the protest if the decision does not go in our favour on January 3.”
Tessa expects just that. “The authorities will ask for more time to discuss the issue with their legal counsel. And legal counsel meets only twice a year. If there is an inordinate delay, we plan to move the High Court,” she said.
Tessa said the girls are witnessing rampant sexism after the protest. “Strangers out on the streets say they used to ‘care’ for us, but won’t do that any longer. Police officers have asked some boys whether they would allow their sisters to leave home after 6pm. Some teachers are also singling out the protesting girls.
“What we are telling them is that we are adults. If security is the concern, then it’s the responsibility of the police. If the city is unsafe for women and if authorities and the police believe that all men are bad, then the solution is not locking women up,” said Tessa.
Students of Maharaja’s College staying at the state-run post-matric hostel say their curfew is 6pm. “As our hostel is not under the college, our curfew is different. We have asked the SC Department to extend it to 7pm. But we haven’t received a favourable response yet. We are required to get permission by noon if we want to stay out late. At the men’s hostel, the inmates can come and go at will even if the curfew is 6pm,” said Anjana, a student of Maharaja’s College.
The situation is grimmer at the hostel of Sacred Heart College, Thevara. “Our curfew is at 5.30pm. We are not allowed to go out on Sundays,” said Carmen S Mathew, a BCom student. “I think they can extend it to at least 6.30pm or 7pm and let the students go out on Sundays. I take part in dance performances. When there are events or competitions , it is impossible to reach the hostel by 5.30pm. I like our hostel, but if it gets too difficult, I might have to change it,” she said.
Ann Elizabeth, an MCom student, said she opted to be paying guest fearing regressive rules at the hostel. “But there too, the curfew there is 6.30pm,” she said.