Published: 22nd February 2019
How the women hostellers in the College of Engineering, Trivandrum fought to get their curfew extended
The student representatives and the members of the group Azadi of CET have been fighting for this relaxation for months now
How would it feel to roam around the campus, watch the sunset or read a good book peacefully at the library after the sun sets? All these were alien to the inmates of the Ladies Hostel (LH) at the College of Engineering, Trivandrum. While the 'rules' mandated them to stay indoors after 6.30 pm every day, they'd see their male counterparts staying out late, even beyond 9.30 pm, the original curfew.
But today, all this is history. A new ruling by the Higher Education Department of the Government of Kerala, issued on February 21, states that the residents of the LH can stay outside till 9.30 pm, just like the men, as the libraries and labs close only at 9 pm.
The ruling is a result of endless strikes and struggles by the students of the college, especially the group, Azadi. We sought to look back at the timeline of the events and how Azadi came into existence. Hence, we decided to ask Anjuradh TR, the college students' union's women's representative and an active member of Azadi.
The struggle for the extension of the curfew dates back to 2015. Back then, a group of students held a strike against the college administration. But a joint meeting by the college administration and the Parent Teachers Association dismissed the demand. "The students always wanted to push for a change in the curfew timings," says Anjuradh. "When I contested for the college union elections, this was the only demand that most of the women put forward. So we took it up," she adds.
Following this, the union also strengthened the Azadi group and decided to take up the issue. The first step was to file an RTI to find out what the official government order says about the work hours of the library, labs and the hostel curfew. "The response was that the hostel works 24/7. We also found out that the libraries and the labs do not function till 9 pm, as they are mandated to," says Anjuradh. But when the student representatives approached the principal about the same, they were asked to talk to the government officials.
But for these activists, that was the biggest turning point in their story. Anjuradh tells us how. "We met Dr T K Anandi, State Gender Advisor, Government of Kerala to discuss the issue. She told us that such an order doesn't exist and the principal has the right to take a decision on the issue. Finally, she told us, 'there is no rule, so why don't you break the unwritten one?' That was what insipred us the most," she says. That night, 10 students stayed out of the hostel post 6.30 pm and enterred the building only at 9 pm.
The last three to enter the hostel, including Anjradh were told that they cannot enter without stating a reason for being late. "We were adamant about not stating a reason. We were questioned on the grounds of morality too, but we still didn't give up," she says. The spark spread like fire and the next night, 100 students stayed outside till 9 pm. This carried on to the next day, but the wardens and the principal told the students that they would not be able to enter the hostel without providing a proper explanation. Following this, the students called for a strike on the college premises. No authorities met the protestors till the next morning.
The next day, the students were told that their parents will be called for a meeting to discuss the issue. "But we protested. We're all above 18 and can make decisions ourselves," says Anjuradh. While the protest went on, the students were informed by Dr Anandi that Usha Titus IAS, Principal Secretary - Higher Education Department will be meeting the principal. "It was around 9.30 at night, when we got the official notice by the government saying that the curfew has been extended," she tells us.
Even though the primary issue is resolved, Anjuradh says that Azadi has a lot more to do. "Ours is the only engineering college that has a relaxed curfew now. We are planning to expand the movement to other colleges in the state too," she says, hoping for a new era of resistance in Kerala.