Posted by Ashly Abraham

Hugs, as I understand, is something personal for most people. At the same time, there are also people who do group hugs that are more spontaneous in nature and happens mostly on celebratory occasions. My question related to hugs is very simple. Does this cool, casual form of communication require to be decorated with a moral tag?

This question is based on the recent incident of the expulsion of two students from a private CBSE school in Kerala for hugging in the school premises. The boy had congratulated a girl with a hug after she performed in a singing competition. This became an issue when they were seen by a teacher who brought it to the attention of the Vice – Principal. Both students had to hand in an apology letter for their ‘actions’.

Anyhow, it didn’t go well the boy’s class teacher who wasn’t satisfied with this apology. That is why the boy’s parents were later called to the school and showered with abusive verbal expletives by the Secretary of Mar Thoma Educational Society, a wing of the Mar Thoma Church. This private school located at Trivandrum is under the management of Mar Thoma Church which is a group of non-Catholic Christians in Kerala.

The initial decision of suspension led the boy to approach the State Child Rights Commission and an interim order was produced to the school management. In return, the Kerala High Court was approached and it was ruled in the favour of the school management on the validity of their decision to take action against the students for violation of school discipline.

Finally, the students went from being fully suspended to expelled from the school and missed five months of classes. In between this, they were allowed to write one exam but being in class 11 and class 12, the required attendance went down; the boy for his boards and the girl her final exams.

Society places morals in a variety of situations and things such as clothing, accessories, hairstyles and marital status.

This incident did gain a lot of attention in the media, primarily due to the management’s decision to expel these students. The students did receive support though from few alumni of this school, while M.P. Shashi Tharoor had condemned this incident also.

Now, there can be gaps in all the information as portrayed by the media, which is quite understandable. But, my fundamental question of whether morals should be placed in hugs doesn’t change and stays relevant. Society has continued to place morals in a variety of situations and things such as clothing and accessories, hairstyles, marital status of individuals or even single parents for that matter.

Today, with this incident, a school is simply reinforcing these regressive attitudes once again and that too on adolescents. For a state that boasts of high literacy levels, this is definitely a back seat on the education scenario in Kerala.

So, what’s problematic about morals in hugs? Quite often, such morals and limits create gendered expectations of people. Expectations on how people are to behave, dress up correctly, gain a respectful job or fit in within accepted social circles etc.  All this just reinforces the idea of an authoritarian regime in schools and colleges, and these expected behaviour patterns often become the base for most school rules and discipline.

Even in this case, a school representative was quoted saying that this kind of behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated in any other school in Kerala as it would be against school discipline. The boy and girl were also highly doubted for their congratulatory hug as school believed it lasted for more than a few seconds. Perhaps they did hug for more, but that was a choice based on a reason.

Also Read: The Classroom Is A Gender Mould In Itself

In the name of culture and discipline, are we trying to create robotic individuals who should suppress responses such as hugs? For that matter, should every boy and girl who aren’t legally married, fret and worry every time they want to indulge in a simple physical communication such as a handshake or hug, of their own consent and choice? 

If school decorum and disciple was the main concern, then this incident could have been dealt in a much better manner. There wasn’t any need to resort to shaming, which is worryingly becoming a trend these days. The apology submitted here should have followed by an open and honest discussion between both the students, parents and school management.

The boy didn’t have to be shamed to such an extent of being described as someone who is sexually out of control. If the boy was shamed in this way, clearly it would have been more for the girl student as well. Perhaps, it went out of proportion as the boy approached an external body for relief. It’s possible that the school management wasn’t able to digest this external body’s entry into a private school’s matter.

The matter of taking out personal pictures from the boy’s Instagram account should be addressed. Why was there a need to do this? Simple. The school management used past photos to judge the relationship between the boy and girl and shamed them on the grounds of the photos being ‘immoral’ in nature.

The judge of the High Court also observed these photos to be indecent, scandalous and appealed to prurient interest. Wow, that’s quite a description but just one thing. Weren’t these photos in a private account? That means it wasn’t meant for public viewing.

reinforcing the idea of an authoritarian regime in schools and colleges.

So did the school go into the trouble of hacking into the boy’s personal account or have some other student takes a screenshot of the same? On a similar note, the school also might have felt that they needed evidence to support their accusation of a hug between the students. After all, it was just a hug!

School authorities can’t really think that they can stop people from forming friendships and exploring romantic possibilities. This is not the beginning nor the end, as there will be many more “unacceptable” social situations yet to come. But if we are going to deal with all of them, with sour attitudes or anger, an amicable solution would never be reached. There will always be unrest and unease.

Presently, the boy and his parents await a meeting with the school management for January 3rd, to discuss his possible future. It is possible that his suspension will be done away with since the school has recommended the CBSE board to allow the boy to give the exams. This softening of a stand is perhaps due to Shashi Tharoor’s meeting with all of them, prior to this.

Somehow the girl’s situation still stands unsure as she isn’t technically a student of the school due to an incomplete application process and she still awaits a decision in her favour. But, she reported facing problems in gaining admissions at another school and still hopes to write her final exams just like the boy awaiting his boards.

Let’s hope for a favourable outcome that will finally keep the hugs free from morals.

#FreeTheHugs

Also Read: Lofty Aims To Fail Before They Begin: Gender-research Varsity In Kerala With Gender-segregated Classrooms


Ashly Abraham is based in Delhi. She presently identifies as an artist and writer and loves to ponder about most things in the universe. She can be followed on Instagram.

Featured Image Credit: Movie Tarot

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