At a time when the board exam results have been declared and students all over the country are vying for admissions in top colleges, girls in Bengaluru are in for a shock — some private pre-university (PU) colleges have released a higher cut-off for girls.
The Karnataka government’s Department of Pre-University Education (DPUE) has issued guidelines for PU colleges stating that they will have to follow a seat-matrix, which aims at ensuring girls an equal chance in gaining admissions into private colleges. However, this move has resulted in some colleges manipulating the guidelines.
Private PU colleges such as MES PU College Of Arts, Commerce and Science, and Christ Junior College, among others, have observed that girls outperform guys, leading to more girls in colleges, thus bringing about a need for higher cut-offs for them, in order to maintain the gender-balance.
“Gender equality means equal grounds for girls and boys, and that means the same cut-offs for both. If girls are scoring more, it means that they are working harder. It would be unfair if they are given a higher cut-off. Both have the ability to work hard, and achieve what they want. Having the same cut-off makes it fair,” says Shamitha GH, who is in process of applying to colleges.
The cut-offs were opposed by NGOs working for women empowerment. “Higher cut-off for girls is a punishment for performing better in academics. Hence, in a country where one-third of the girls are not in schools, the ones who are able to cross all barriers and work hard should not be discriminated against, on any grounds,” says Ranjana Kumari, Director, Centre for Social Research.
While everyone has been debating the nature of this action on moral grounds, Santosh Vas, Chairlady, Janodaya Trust, explains that more than morality, one should concentrate on how wrong this is, constitutionally. “This is our nation going back to old practices. We have been fighting for equal rights for women for years and continue to encourage them to choose and move forward in various fields; this move is the complete opposite of that. PU colleges are stripping girls of their right to study, consequently taking away their individuality and identity.”
A majority of the students feel there is no alternative to it. “I know a friend who did not get admission, whereas, another friend of mine, a guy who scored the same marks got admission into the college he wanted. So, the only sane thing to do is to keep the cut-off same for boys and girls,” says Jyoti,* a student in Christ Junior College.
Shamitha believes, “Maybe, a survey to figure out why boys aren’t scoring as high as girls can be carried out, but other than that, it is only right that we all have the same cut-off.”
Legal experts too have condemned this move. “The decision to set higher cut-offs for girls is regressive and unconstitutional. Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India prohibit sex simplicity as a ground of discrimination,” says Shraddha Gome, alumna of National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. “To satisfy the test of reasonable classification under A. 14, the classification must be based on intelligible differentia (i.e., difference capable of being understood) and should have reasonable nexus with the object sought to be achieved. The policy prescribing higher cut-offs for girls fails both these tests. The classification is arbitrary and apart from sex, no ground exists to justify this differential treatment,” continues Shraddha.
Taking this point further, Utkarsh Kumar Sonkar, alumnus, NLSU, Bengaluru a former Law Researcher, Supreme Court of India and alumnus of National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, explained, “Further, in a system which is highly skewed in favour of boys, the policy aggravates the social and institutional injustice faced by girls. Thus, it defeats the very object of gender parity that it seeks to achieve. The policy reflects the patriarchal mindset which feels threatened by the mere presence of women in the public sphere.”
However, some people have questioned the legality of this decision by arguing that these PU colleges are private institutes which are autonomous bodies and therefore, hold the freedom to decide their quotas and reservations. “One may debate that a private university does not fall within the purview of Article 12. However, the Kerala High Court, in the case of Chithra C.R. vs. State of Kerala and Ors. in WP (C) No. 25997 of 2015, has clearly held that a private un-aided school discharges public functions and therefore falls within the scope of Article 12,” explains Nachiketa Goyal, Senior Associate at Kochhar & Co, Delhi. What remains to be seen, is for how long these select PU colleges will continue to carry on the bias against girls.
“In view of the above, private schools should not implement such decision of higher cut-offs for girls. In the event that they do, the same ought to be challenged by way of a writ petition before the Hon’ble High Court,” continues Nachiketa.
While the issue has been condemned by students and parents on moral grounds, experts have raised objections on legal grounds, and social workers have opposed it on constitutional basis too.
The DPUE has now issued a circular stating that from next year, cut-offs will have to be solely based on percentage, and not gender. Students who have suffered this year have been hoping for some relief, but DPUE believes that it is too late to bring about out any changes in the current admission process.
* name changed on request.