In the recent times there has been a lot of news surrounding Sri Sairam Engineering College and its special instructions for female students. I was religiously following all the news surrounding this since I hail from Chennai and I was an engineering student studying in Chennai more than a decade ago.
I remember casual conversations with friends from certain private engineering colleges, who talked about segregation between male and female students in buses, the dress code involving salwar kameez with pinned dupattas, (or formal shirts for men) and the ultimate rule – absolutely no conversation between male and female students.
Why I am going back to many years ago is the fact that we used to note these facts of life and were silently thankful that the colleges we studied in did not have these ridiculous rules. There was not once that any of us really thought that these were plain human right violations – that these were rules that were unconstitutional. Some parents of grown children in these colleges thought that these rules were necessary for discipline and some just thought there was no way out since they were “middle class families.” There was nobody that ever considered a protest, very few fought and fewer got a TC.
Over the years Sathyabhama University earned a reputation of being “too strict” – meaning strict monitoring of conversations between male and female students. Jeppiar joined the bandwagon and gradually as I moved out of Chennai and as I heard from a cousin who studied there, many more colleges joined the “strict” list.
A couple of days ago, I spoke to students of Sairam Engineering College who were part of the protest outside Anna University. They said, “We protested for basic freedoms. We wanted to not be treated like slaves.”
Apparently, every floor had a supervisor that monitored the loitering of students during break time. Students were forcefully asked to share their social networking passwords to check for communication between students of opposite sexes. They were fined for almost everything – the wrong clothes, the wrong scores and the “wrong” behaviour. As the students tell me – “It is the management’s rajyam (kingdom). They will do as they please.”
And they continued to add that students were used to most of the rules. They were used to not speaking with students of the opposite sex, they were used to wearing formal clothes and they were used to waiting for four years to end before they could regain their freedoms. Over 10,000 students, their parents and all the teaching staff was habituated to these rules. They did not think it would change.
This is exactly why a protest of 500-600 students outside Anna Varsity is a big deal. At least someone is recognizing that this is not the way we should allow our young adults to be treated. They deserve respect and they definitely deserve their freedom.
Apparently the Vice Chancellor has promised to create a committee who will look into the students’ petition. The students remain doubtful – they told me that they think their entire protest will just be a story for future students on how not to behave.
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