As students push for more freedom and equality, college hostels are changing - Hindustan Times
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As students push for more freedom and equality, college hostels are changing

Hindustan Times | By
Aug 28, 2019 07:33 PM IST

Among the top demands are more-relaxed curfew hours and dress codes, and equal norms for male and female students.

In hostels across India, a change is brewing. Students have been protesting to bring their residences and living quarters up to date with the present. They’ve been fighting for more reasonable curfews, for women students to have the same privileges as the men, and for access to both their city and the campus.

(iStock)
(iStock)

In December, Punjab University students concluded a 48-day protest against the longstanding curfew of 9 pm, and the hefty fine for students who return after 10 pm. A few months ago, Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur, saw similar protests against deadlines. On the Delhi campuses of Miranda House, Jamia Milia and St Stephen’s College, SRCC, which have curfew timings ranging from 8 pm to 9.30 pm there have been multiple protests in the last couple of years.

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And in October, students of Mumbai’s SNDT Women’s University organised a protest against an archaic dress code that forbade them to appear in public rooms or dining halls in night suits and night gowns. The rules are now more relaxed - SNDT currently has no dress code. But it still enforces a deadline of 9pm for “discipline and security purposes”, says Deepak Deshpande, the university’s registrar.

Most recent protests have one thing in common. Students of a wired, confident, 24-hour generation no longer want to live by rules set down decades ago. Many say it stifles not only their social lives but their academic pursuits too. None want to be penalised for engaging with the world as adults. And hostels, in turn, have been trying to cope.

IT’S ABOUT TIME

Most hostels expect residents to be back by a certain hour – it allows for the hostel to function smoothly, keep security costs low, and encourages students to adhere to a routine. But it can become counterproductive, explains Kanupriya MA, first-year student of Women’s Studies and former president of the student’s union of Punjab University, Chandigarh. “A campus is safer when it is filled with people rather than being desolate or free of women,” she says. She led 400 students to protest the 9 pm curfew, getting the management to drop late-return fines and extending the deadline to 11 pm.

THE GENDER GAP

Chaman Lal, professor of Hindi, was a member of the senate that amended the curfew rule in Punjab University from 9 to 11pm and scrapped fines. He believes several hostel rules are openly discriminatory. “Our Constitution gives equal rights to men and women,” he says. “Why should only girls be forced to get into their rooms after a certain hour or dress a certain way when there’s hardly such restriction for boys?”

Lal points out that these limitations hinder students’ freedom, especially those who want to make maximum use of campus facilities. “There are institutes that keep libraries and labs open around the clock, but girls are not allowed to access it 24/7.”

The hostel experience is an important factor for the overall intellectual growth of a student, says Ashley NP, assistant professor, St Stephen’s College, Delhi. “In many international institutions like Kings College in London, there is no concept of class attendance, you are expected to make use of libraries, faculty, seminars and projects on your own time,” he says. “In India, not all students get rooms in hostels and it is expensive to live outside. So when a student gets a seat in the hostel they are too scared to question any rule.”

Ashley mentions campuses like Hyderabad Central University and Jawaharlal Nehru University where students were allowed to roam freely on campus and have had late-night discussions and debates.

A LONG LEASH

As times change, managing a hostel is more challenging, says Mira K Desai, professor of communication technology at SNDT University, who is a part of the hostel committee. “Students now have new ways of ordering food, connecting with people through cell phones and the internet,” she says. “Students want to order food after 8 pm which is not allowed. They also sometimes talk on the phone in corridors late into the night. This adds to the pressure on hostels to enforce discipline.”

Professor Chaman Lal points out that it is the responsibility of the institutions to stay ahead of the curve and be flexible to adapt to the changing times. “What is right and wrong or what is sensible cannot be imposed with rules that harm students it has to come through education and logical interactions,” he says.

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