These pictures were circulating on WhatsApp groups and on Facebook since August 1 . Many were outraged, calling it ridiculous and poked fun at the college. Others professed how relieved they were that they weren’t studying there right now.
But what about the students who have to face these draconian rules?
I was furious when I saw these pictures. Students confirmed that these rules were in fact communicated to them by teachers during a closed-door meeting only for female students. College authorities however denied issuing any such official memo.
I thought that St. Aloysius PU College would grow with the times but they clearly haven’t.
I speak out now because I don’t want anyone else to go through what I did when I was studying there. I hadn’t spoken out earlier because I was scared of the repercussions at that time, but I think silence is complicity and I do not, and can not, support such blatantly sexist rules.
Mangalore, December 2011: We were sitting on the steps in college studying for the Class 11 French exam. 7 of us were huddled around a single French textbook, fervently hoping we’d remember the exceptions of the verb manger.
A particularly tall friend of mine kept casting shadows on the book because he was standing, blocking the sun. Exasperated, we asked him to move and he sat down next to me. We continued our frantic last-minute prep, laughing as we came up with ways to remember different French words.
Suddenly I heard someone calling me. I turned around to find a lab attendant gesturing to us.
The Dean wanted to meet us in his office.
As we walked up the stairs to his office, I wondered what the meeting could be about and more importantly whether it would end in time for us to finish brushing through those ghastly verbs.
He started off with a belligerent “What were you two doing?”.
We looked at each other, confused.
The conversation then took a bizarre turn.
Dean: “Is that the way to study?”
Me: “I don’t understand Sir. We were doing a group study for the French exam that’s going to start in sometime”
Dean: “That is not the way to study!”
Me: (completely baffled) “What Sir?”
Dean: “Is that what your parents taught you? To sit close together with boys?”
Me: “Err.. we were studying Sir. We had just one textbook so everyone was sharing it”
“This is a college! This is not the place to study!”, he screamed.
At this moment my friend and I didn’t know whether to laugh or to be incredulous.
He then asked us to meet him after the exam.
This left me a little rattled, but I didn’t think too much of it. We went back to studying, but this time I made my friend stand even if it meant we had to peer at darkened pages.
After the exam, my friend went to meet him while I waited outside for my turn. He came out within a few minutes smiling and said that he wasn’t told much, just not to do group studies “like that” ever again.
So I thought that I too would be subjected to the same thing and calmly went inside.
The Dean asked me for my register number, pulled out my mark sheets and began scrutinising it. I was a reasonably good student, so I suppose he couldn’t find much fault there.
He pointed out a 78 I had scored in an English class test.
Dean: “Ha! Look at this. What kind of marks is this? You got 84 in the previous exam and a 78 in this one! See, this is where your ‘group studies’ are getting you.”
Me: “But Sir, that 78 was the highest score in the class”
At this point he probably didn’t expect a retort and was enraged.
Dean: “What do you mean highest? You are sitting with boys in the college. That is not right!”
He went on to berate my character and morals, his voice rising to a crescendo. Every unfair barb he threw at me made me feel powerless and frustrated.
We were raised to respect elders, so I held my tongue. But I couldn’t hold back my tears.
He stopped his tirade when he saw my eyes swelling up after a prolonged bout of crying. Satisfied that he had yelled me into submission, he ended with an ominous threat – “If I see you talking to boys again in the college, I’ll dismiss you from this college”
I was stunned. He was the Dean. He had the power to actually carry out his threat.
I was studying in a co-educational institution. The male-female ratio in my class was 5:1. Was I supposed to talk only to the 11 girls in my class? Must I ignore the 60 other classmates just because they were boys?
Did he expect me to suddenly shun all my friends just because they were boys?
How would I carry out my responsibilities as a Class Representative?
He dismissed me with a wave. “Today I am letting you go, otherwise I would have called your parents”
I was so angry I retorted, “Sir you don’t need to call my parents. I will call them myself and you can meet them tomorrow.”
He hadn’t expected this. This was usually the part where the student begged for mercy and forgiveness, promising all kinds of atonement but to please leave the parents out of this.
He fumbled, “No… no need to call them tomorrow. But if it happens again I will call them”
My voice was choked up from crying but I was adamant. My parents would meet him the next day.
I walked out of the room sobbing. I was angry that I let someone bully me like that. I was angry that I was given such a brow-beating and my friend was let off with just a joke. I was hurt because I felt like I had made some sort of huge mistake but I was confused because I could not understand why it was a mistake in the first place.
From a distance, my friend thought I was laughing and that the Dean had chided me lightly as with him. Only when he came closer did he realise I was sobbing.
My parents heard me out as I narrated the entire incident. They were immense pillars of support and met the Dean the very next day. In front of them as well, he tried to pull out my marks as a means of justification. My parents would have none of it. When I tried to explain what happened he pointed an angry finger at me – “You just keep quiet!”
I was angry. This meeting was about me, about what happened. He kept trying to defend his action, saying it was just a precaution as “other parents” had complained about boys and girls sitting together inside the campus. He kept referring to me as “She”, derision resonating with just that single syllable.
I have never felt as small or defeated as I did that day. My father calmly asked me to leave and as I walked down the corridor, heads popped out of passing classrooms curious to know what had happened.
I am so incredibly grateful to my parents for standing by me when other parents in the same situation would have usually taken the Dean’s side. I have heard accounts of when parents had even hit their child, to assure the Dean that they were serious about “disciplining” them.
Eventually it was “sorted out” with the Principal issuing an announcement: ‘While this is a co-educational college, one boy and one girl should not be found lurking around in the corners of the campus’
I tried to put the incident behind me and concentrated on completing the rest of my exams. But it has always stayed with me.
For a long time I would not let a boy sit next to me. If they told me I was crazy I’d just stand up and remain standing. I’d rather spend hours standing than being put through that humiliating experience ever again.
It changed the way I viewed male-female relationships for a while. Every boy and girl talking to each other seemed suspicious to me. To my horror I was becoming exactly what I had loathed. This is how the cycle of abuse continues.
It took me a while to calibrate within myself that male-female interactions are but normal. That nothing “more” needs to be attributed to a word, a look , an accidental touch or even a hi-five.
This is not me bashing my college. I loved studying in St. Aloysius PU College. It was the best 2 years of my life. My college instilled in me values of compassion and responsibility. They encouraged us to take part in so many extra-curricular activities, to take up leadership roles and to believe that we could do anything we set our mind to.
But above everything else, I remember the friends I made. The very friends I was told not to talk to, have become like family now.
But draconian rules that dictate the terms of male-female interactions make the campus a hostile place. It goes against all the ideas of liberty and equality that the college says it stands for. I don’t think it is right for someone to be policed by such rules.
How long will we passively keep accepting rules that are meant to break us? Are we to be reduced to mere machines meant only to churn out good marks?
As a former student I strongly call for these rules to be revoked.
I demand that any rule be thought out with the care and sensitivity that must come with the responsibility of making ‘young men and women for others’ – as the College’s vision statement proudly declares.