They greeted the good news by bursting crackers and dancing to the beats of singarimelam . They fashioned a mock grave marked with ‘6:30’ and bid it a ‘grief-stricken departure’. For women hostellers of the College of Engineering, Trivandrum, February 21 marked the arrival of something fundamental they have been fighting for long: getting a hidebound hostel curfew extended.
At the forefront of the campaign, which has subsequently inspired students of other colleges in the city too, was Azadi: Educate, Organise, Agitate, a students-led movement supported by the college union. With an “age-old” 6.30 pm curfew for those in the Ladies Hostel, students say they faced “discrimination” while the men hostellers were permitted to stay out till 9.30 pm. “Hostel authorities would not bother much about the comings and goings of boys. However, more than the gender disparity, what bothered us more was the big inconvenience such a restriction caused. Forget stepping out to have a good time or dining out, we could not even use the library beyond 6.30 pm,” says Anjuradh TR, College Union Lady Representative and an Azadi member. With the college library and laboratories open till 9 pm, female students say sometimes they could not manage to get even academic work done on schedule. About 750 students currently stay in CET’s Ladies Hostel, which is divided into two buildings.
Though the “fight for freedom” tasted success only now, the seeds for the struggle were sown in 2015 when former students formed the group ‘Break the Curfew’ with the objective of getting hostel entry timings extended. However, it fizzled out after “stern interventions” from the college and the PTA, which, students say, rather unilaterally overruled their demands. Azadi was formed after the previous college union election as a “non-political” student body, with an executive committee comprising 12 women and 8 men.
“Though unquestioningly followed for years, we doubted if there was indeed such a rule for hostel curfew as, in different colleges, different timings were being followed. When we petitioned the Principal, he said he was not in a position to take a suo motu decision. We then approached State gender adviser TK Anandi, who pointed out that there was in fact no such rule but that the final decision was with the institution head,” says Fathima Nishma, a third-year student from Malappuram. As the deadlock continued despite a series of negotiations during which students were made to “run from pillar to post”, 10 students intentionally broke the curfew by entering the hostel by 9.15 pm on February 18. As word spread, over 100 students followed suit on the second and the third days, before the college authorities relented and released a circular, notifying the extension of timings to 9.30 pm.
Joakkim Francis, an Azadi member, claims hostel authorities were using the “safety factor” as a smokescreen for “moral policing”. “If a student is found to break the rules, the authorities have the right to take commensurate disciplinary actions but instead they resorted to a blanket ban,” he says.
Close on the heels of the agitation at CET, students of Government Law College too recently staged protests in favour of a six-point demand, one of which was extension of hostel curfew at 5.30 pm. “The restrictions were unreasonable and regressive, especially in an age when women are enjoying greater freedom. The curfew prevented us from attending coaching classes for exams such as civil services, PSC etc after class hours. The students are able to do that now without fear of having to rush back to meet the deadline,” says Priyanka Roy, a law college student. The management has since revised the hostel curfew till 9 pm. Priyaka points out that fearing “reprimands”, hostellers often stayed out at friends’ places if they had to attend cultural events in the city. “During events such as the IFFFK, many would even reach out to safe shelter home facilities like Ente Koodu [a facility for women run by the Corporation],” she adds.
However, students staying in ladies’ hostels in many other colleges in the city continue to be at the receiving end of hidebound strictures. Aswathi Babu, a B.Sc Maths student of University College, wishes that the curfew be extended till at least 8 pm. “The authorities harp on safety issues but aren’t similar problems happening in broad daylight too?” asks Aswathi, who stays at the University Women’s hostel at Vazhuthacaud, a common hostel for students of Women’s College, Arts College and University College, where the curfew remains at 6 pm. “What’s more irksome is how we have to explain where we were and what we were doing when the security guard asks for explanations for being late,” she says.
For sportswoman like Aneeta P V, an M Com student of Mar Ivanios College, Nalanchira, “permission in advance” often comes to her aid. “We (sports team) frequently travel for matches and can’t stick to hostel timings always. On such days, we have to inform the hostel about our timings,” says Aneeta, a college basketball player. But she disapproves of the hostel policy of not allowing students to avail themselves of food delivery after 6 pm, the de facto curfew. “Boys have the freedom to walk out and walk in at their convenience, but we are not even allowed to collect dinner from outside,” she says.
However, train delays are something out of their hands during weekends and holidays when many return after home visits. Scheduling journeys in line with hostel curfew often proves distressing. “On such occasions, many students request their parents to directly call up and inform the authorities to avoid an earful!” exclaims Aneeta.