February 10 was an unusual day for the women students who live inside the hostels in Central University of Tamil Nadu campus. The campus ground, which seldom sees women students after 9 pm everyday, saw hundreds of students, both men and women demanding that the informal curfew on women students be lifted. This sudden, unannounced protest by the students forced the senior professors and the administrative members to take note and act on their request.
The Central University of Tamil Nadu is located near Thiruvarur, a city which is on the banks of the river Cauvery. It was established in 2009 under an Act of the Parliament and has around 1,600 students studying in various programmes offered by the University. Six hostels dot the university campus, providing accommodation to the students. Of the six hostels, two hostels each exclusively cater to men and women students, one is assigned for both men and women and one hostel is separately assigned for PhD scholars.
The hostel rules as printed in the hostel admission forms of the university state, “Entry into the hostel at night is allowed till 9.00 p.m. Any late entries/night exits should be informed to the Warden in advance and written permission should be obtained.” Apart from this, “Attendance will be taken by the Warden/Resident Warden/assistant warden/ hostel caretaker at 9.00 p.m. every night. After the attendance the students are not allowed to go out of the hostel,” reads the admission form.
However, these curfews act out differently depending on whether the inmates are men or women, says Vidya* a postgraduate student of the university. “Though we both have curfews for hostels, boys are allowed to venture out of their hostels after their curfew time. Girls were not even allowed to step out once the 9 pm attendance is taken,” she says. Adding that the reason given for the curfew -- that the campus has a lot of snakes -- doesn’t make sense, Vidya says that the students have requested many times in the past to relax the curfew a little.
It was in this backdrop that the students decided to assert their right for free movement and congregated outside the hostel buildings and call for relaxation of the curfew. Result -- An open meeting with the students was conducted by the Proctor and Chief Warden and the curfew has been relaxed to an extent that women students are now allowed to step outside their hostels upon making an entry in the register.
Curfew made lives difficult for the students
Arun*, another postgraduate student, tells TNM that while the time limits are quite relaxed for the men, women have a negative impact on their academics due to the curfew. “The campus library is open till 8 pm. For most post graduate and PhD scholars, classes get over by 6-6.30pm. They get very little time in the library because with the available time, they cannot even run to their hostels, refresh themselves and come to the library. This affects our studies a lot,” he explains. Requests made by the students to extend the library timings had fallen on deaf ears, he alleges.
Vidya adds that since students spend a good share of their formative lives in the campus, the curfew restricts them from getting the complete benefits of education. “A lot of us spend at least four years here. In such case, confining us inside the walls doesn’t do any good to our well-being. It instead affects us mentally, since we are not exposed to anything outside our rooms,” she says.
University terminated professors for sticking up for us: Students
Two professors who also worked as resident wardens in the women’s hostels were terminated by the University over an e-mail. The reason mentioned by the university for firing them was that they both had violated the code of conduct. However, that was not the case, says Vidya.
“On Monday, we students had an open meeting with the Proctor of the university and the Chief Warden. It was then that they told us about the actual reason for terminating the two professors -- They had allowed women students inside the hostels after 9.30 pm,” she explains.
Assistant professors Saranya and Aazhiyarasi had met with the Registrar last week where they had said that they would warn the students who were entering their hostels late since there was no specific instructions given to them that such instances must be reported to the their superiors.
“Terminating both of them from the post of resident warden might make sense, but I don’t think it is right to terminate both of them from their role of Assistant Professor,” adds a professor from the university in the condition of anonymity. Saranya and Aazhiyarasi however refused to comment on the issue.
The big picture
Arun says that the university also engages in targeting students who question the rules for their apparent lack of logic. “Even in this library issue, when students ask questions and point out the practical difficulty in the timings, the professors and staff make it a point to target us academically,” he says. However, he adds that the women students have it worse. “They are threatened that their parents will be informed of their movements, if they raise their voice against something in the campus. The students are all adults here and what is the need to inform parents for these, I fail to understand,” he adds.
TNM is yet to receive a response from the Proctor of the university on an email-questionnaire on the issue, he was unavailable over phone.
*Names have been changed on request