Bangalore to Bhopal: Moral Policing Creates Oppressive Regime in Universities

Students at the protest in the Bannerghatta campus. Credit: Youth Ki Awaz

Students at the protest in the Bannerghatta campus. Credit: Youth Ki Awaz

Student protests against moral policing in campuses have been on the rise. Recently, two universities made news over excessively intrusive policies that the administration tried to impose on the student body.

Protests over dress-code and discriminatory curfews took place in Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology (MANIT), the Indian Express reported today. Female students at MANIT are required to return to their hostels by 9:30 pm and those who fail to do so will be refused entry and left to wait in the lobby, as per a notice dated June 28. The same notice also instructed women to not wear shorts and skirts on campus.

One of the protesters told ANI, “Dress code should be according to our comfort. Why should we listen to others? Why shouldn’t we wear shorts? This is [the] 21st century.”

The students sat on a dharna inside the campus wearing shorts. The administration, reportedly, revoked the dress-code instruction after the protest.

Christ University in Bangalore has also been drawing headlines since July 26 for similar reasons. Students have been vocal about what they say is the excessively authoritarian hand with which the management runs the university, ignoring problems faced by women,  including sexual harassment. The students have taken to social media to garner support for their cause.

The International Business Times reported on August 2, that over 250 students protested silently, wearing black at the Bannerghatta campus of the university, and a faculty member was asked to resign for allegedly organising the protest. Previously, the professor is reported to have earned the ire of the management for refusing to reduce attendance for students who did not conform to the dress code.

The students released a statement after the protest, asking the online community for support.

An anonymous post on Youth Ki Awaz says that the university had recently held a forum to address student concerns, but it turned out to be “a sham of a meeting, held just to satisfy the conscience of the management.”

The post goes on to list the various issues that the students raised and provides a detailed description of the ways in which the university’s rules were offensive, intrusive and sometimes, an outright violation of their rights. The post mentions hefty and arbitrary fines, and moral policing as some of problems faced by students. It cites an incident where some students were suspended for drinking alcohol outside the campus. It further said, with regard to inappropriate behaviour that is legitimised by rules,

Moreover, girls are hounded for the clothes they wear. Especially since there is a rule that prohibits girls from wearing leggings, teachers often go and pull up their kurtas just to make sure that they are not wearing leggings. This is terribly inappropriate. Why should a girl be felt up by a teacher, just for implementing a ridiculous rule?

The university does not have a sexual harassment cell, despite repeated UGC guidelines since 2013 recommending that universities establish a body to address sexual harassment.

The NewsMinute has reproduced an anonymous blog post from a student which went viral detailing the unsafe environment that the university presents with no safeguards and no hope of redressal. The student in question wrote a personal account of her experiences with sexual harassment on campus. She referred to an influential official who made inappropriate comments about her attire, and a member of the faculty who “wondered if I might be lured into watching a movie with him.”

When she tried to tell her counsellor about the faculty member’s inappropriate behaviour, she was told that he was simply being ‘friendly’ and that she should adopt an approach that was ‘less guarded.’

The post talks about normalised gender-discrimination on campus:

A friend was pulled up by the counsellor for her appearance. Apparently, her ‘made up’ face and ‘excessive’ lipstick is the reason why she had low attendance and also happens to distract boys in class. The very claim is outrageous, reeking of a superior attitude. Moreover, the absurdity of the non-existent correlation is amusing. Similarly, another girl was subjected to some harsh character assassination when the Dean accused her of being a ‘un-moralistic’ for carrying lipstick and wearing leggings. I understand that the latter is against college rules, but that definitely doesn’t warrant comments that marr one’s personal reputation. There is nothing to suggest that carrying a lipstick is against college rules. This girl was left in tears, with nowhere to go.

The concern of the students is that the university takes too many liberties in the name of rules to impose its own moral standards on the student body and, on occasion, even the faculty. This, they fear, is detrimental to the academic atmosphere that a university should have.

Some among the student body claim that the post is a bid to generate hype. The New Indian Express quoted Skandashree Bali, a recent graduate from the institution as claiming ,“I studied in Christ University for seven years and I never came across such a situation. Nor did I hear of it.” Furthermore, an alumnus has said that the “institute will engage the students in dialogue and address their grievances”.

So far, there has been no word from the management.