There is something uncannily similar in the way students behave on the engineering campuses here. In one, the buses arrive and the girls get down and walk in groups, followed much later, by the boys. One of them hurriedly puts away his iPod in his bag. “I am going to get caught one of these days. They don't allow these things but what to do during the four hours of commute,” says the third year student.
Further away, at the dining area which has separate seating for girls and boys, a group of men gets alert when they see a girl and a boy talking, and ask them what the issue is. “We target only those who have bad intentions, not all,” says one of them. This scene at Jeppiar Engineering College is not very different from that at many other engineering colleges. “A boy once helped me in my project. The counsellor immediately called me and publicly humiliated me saying, ‘I am developing bad habits,” says Chitra of Panimalar Institute of Technology.
Campuses seem to be infested with restrictions of all kind. Students can leave campus only twice a month; that too after producing fax messages from their parents. Separate staircases for girls and boys are common. But a conversation between a male and a female student is what earns the maximum wrath of faculty members.
A supervisor patrols every floor and every bus in many top engineering colleges. “A ‘behaviour in-charge' berates students publicly if they notice anything ‘wrong',” says V. Prabhu, a former student of Sri Sairam College of Engineering.
The ‘violations' range from ‘unnecessarily talking to boys/girls, not wearing id card, not being dressed in salwar - kurta with a ‘v-shaped dupatta ' pinned on both sides or formals, says a student of Sathyabhama University. Trees have been cut off, say students, to make sure boys and girls do not gather under them.
“If the teachers see you talking to boys, it gives them a bad impression. So even in the absence of rules, we play it safe because they mark us for our internals,” adds Priya of Velammal Engineering College. Colouring the hair or not wearing a dupatta is taboo in most colleges.
So have students never protested? “Last year, they introduced separate seating areas for students, depending on the number of arrears they had. We protested and we remain barred from industrial visits,” says a student of Vel Tech Technical University. “Recently, some of us were threatened with suspension for laughing loudly with friends outside the campus, he adds.
The case in hostels is no different. “Cell phones are allowed only in hostels, but no romantic ring tones; else, they will evoke ‘romantic feelings' in us, says our warden” laughs Raghuvir of Panimalar Institute of Technology. Counsellors who are supposed to be a source of relief to students seem to exist only to talk students of relationships and sometimes, even report matters to the management.
An alumnus of Anna University, Sai Pradhyuman, remembers how several years ago, a professor who had come to their class to teach a subject in mechanical engineering was shocked to see that girls and boys were seated together.
“He stormed outside the class and later insisted that we follow ‘decency'. Much later, he acquired positions of power and introduced dress codes for the students of the University,” he recalled. College heads and parents, however, have a different opinion. K. S. Babai, principal, Meenakshi Sundararajan Engineering College, feels strict rules are necessary to prepare the students for life.
“We feel we can correct them here. They are adolescents who need to be told what is wrong and we are just doing that.” These rules are the reason I think my son will not get into bad company, feels A. Ramkumar, a parent of a student in St. Mary's Engineering.
“Late adolescent is when students are bound to have an intimate relationship,” says S. Yamuna, an adolescent physician. “A restricted environment will only prompt students to go against rules. Colleges often bring in these rules as a reassurance to parents that they are providing their children a safe environment, but parents need to realise that instead of prohibiting them, parents should encourage their children to discuss their lives with them.”