Of Curfews and Cages

Of Curfews and Cages

Oct 30, 2017 | Swaha Swayamsiddha Deepak Kumar

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NIT Rourkela witnessed a bunch of questionable changes and restrictions imposed on students in the last few weeks. The existing in-time rules were scrapped in favour of new, much stringent rules. The new rules imposed restrict the movements of all boarders, irrespective of their gender after 11 P.M.The circular issued points to a change of a large magnitude despite complete lack of clarity on certain points. With an objective to shed some light on the topic, Team MM brings you the detailed report of the incidents leading up to the implementation and potential outcomes upon its enforcement. 

Following is the circular issued by the office of the Chief Warden regarding the enactment of the new rules governing the movement of students in the campus.

The third point talks about students being allowed to work late at certain “designated places” without giving any further explanation as to what places come under this category. The last point mentions that boarders with more than 3 late entries would be expelled from the hostel, but it leaves a major question as to where the boarder would go, given that according to NITR rules hostel accommodation is compulsory.

Team MM takes a look at the timeline of events that led to these rules coming into the fray.

  • During the spring semester of the academic year 2016-17, the female populace was furious about the strict in-time rules, citing the existing rules as unnecessary, discriminatory and sexist. Aggravating the situation were multiple instances of sexist remarks from authorities, which led to an Open House Discussion on 31st March 2017.  The students were promised that their concerns would be addressed in a special Deans and HODs meeting and they were requested to send two representatives to voice their concerns in front of the authorities. Anurag Saha Roy and Lubhna Farheen were selected for representing the students in the Dean and HOD meeting.
  • In the recent circular, it has been mentioned that the in-time rule for all the hostels was proposed and discussed in that particular Deans and HODs meeting. However student representative in the above said meeting Anurag Saha Roy, informed MM that “nothing about the imposition of an in-time for boys was ever discussed in the meeting.”
  • In the HMC meeting held on 23rd August 2017, the HMC passed the above-mentioned rules, citing security and gender equality issues. The Chief Warden went on to mention that the existing rules of in-time were discriminatory and there was a demand by the General Secretary of the female halls of residence to bring equality, and hence imposing the in-time rule for all the halls was a way to achieve the same.
  • The recent assault on a student inside the hostel premises raised further questions about the credibility of the current security system in place.
  • Cases and claims of students getting drunk or being involved in major and minor accidents and skirmishes in places like Dilip Tirkey Stadium and other locations inside the campus and also outside it has led the worried authorities to tighten the system as such.

THE EXISTING STATUS QUO

As per the existing status quo, the in-time rules are very strict for the girl’s hostel. According to the existing rules, a boarder is allowed 4 late entries per semester, exceeding which compels the authorities to inform the guardian of the boarder concerned. For the boy’s hostel, there are no in-time rules in practice owing largely to the fact that there are a lot of boys hostel and boarders might want to move across the hostels for various practical purposes.

In a statement to MM, Prof. S. Panigrahi, Dean (Student Welfare) said

This rule is in compliance with wishes of  parents to see their kids safely in their hostels and not roam around during the night. Incidents and accidents only lead to fingers being pointed at the authority for their negligence in imposing strciter rules.

CONCERNS

Not overlooking the arguments put up by the authorities in favor of the imposition of the in-time, here are some concerns that students have and the problems that they will face when this rule gets imposed.

Barring KMS and CVR halls of residences, all the other halls have more than one entrance thus providing multiple access points. Considering the close proximity oif the boys’ hostel to each other, the enforcement of such rules does not only seem illogical but also raises multiple questions on the manner of its execution. Given the shortage of security personnel and the institute’s inability to recruit more, it is virtually impossible to keep an eye and track the incomings and outgoings at all such points of entry in a hall. 

M. S. Swaminathan hall recently had to bar access to its rear entrance due to a shortage of guards, but such steps simply cause inconvenience for the boarders, apart from the fact that it is not possible to do the same with all pregnable points in all halls of residences. When the institute doesn’t have enough number of guards to safeguard all the properly installed check gates, it remains a huge question mark as to how they want to implement this rule for all the halls of residence which have multiple ways for the exit and entry of students.

The authorities have decided to install security cameras at the nstitute entrance as well as at the entrances to the halls. Again, given the large number of entrances to the hostels, this move seems infeasible. Considering the fact that the HMC claims to be in debt and is unable to recruit more security personnel, but is ready to shell out a large sum of money for the installation, maintenance and monitoring of CCTV cameras could be a bad move on the financial part. Adding to the fact that the cameras need maintainence and technically skilled personnel manning the monitors, the proposal raises serious question on its effectiveness. The only counter measure that the installation of cameras can provide is the identification of persons involved rather than the prevention of the act itself. If instead, the money could be directed towards the recruitment of more number of security guards and strengthening the screening procedure at the gates. 

The night canteens of many halls of residences are outside their premises. Imposition of a rule such as this, which will not allow the students to approach their night canteens after 11 pm, actually defeats the purpose of a night canteen. A plan to keep the students in and yet provide access to the night canteen hasn’t been hatched yet, which shows a lapse in the process of implementation of such a rule.

Students generally tend to go to other hostels to meet with friends, be it for completing assignments, group work or group study or for socializing. In an institute with a rich club culture as NITR’s, with almost all students working for their interests, the work and the working hours tend to stretch beyond a few short hours. Apart from these, NITR hosts a number of prestigious fests which tests the organizational and managerial skills of the students. The past years have seen organizers, coordinators and volunteers sweating it out and burning the midnight oil to come up with eye-catching decorations and inspiring ideas.

The authorities fail to see that issuing a lockdown on the halls, after 11 pm will impact all these adversely. The new rules will ensure that no one is allowed to go to another hostel for whatever work whatsoever. The rules also state that the in-time can be extended till 12 am, if the party concerned has some work to finish, given that they take prior permission from their respective warden and work in “designated” places, whereas no further information on the word designated was given or available. An extension of one hour doesn’t count for much, especially not when added with the trouble of seeking permission daily to work for the betterment of the institute and its image.

When Prof. S. Panigrahi, Dean (Student Welfare) was asked about what was meant by “designated places” in the circular provided, he said designated places “might” mean the academic area. He also conceded that if any student has some academic work which requires him/her to be present in the academic area even after 12, they would be allowed but only if they have permission from the authorities concerned.

These rules will also affect the Ph.D. and M.Tech scholars, many of whom prefer to work in the laboratories late into the night. Given their lifestyle, course-load, and work-load, taking away the choice of flexible work and research hours from them seems unfair.

The semester fees of every student include a hostel rent fee and fees due for the mess. The fees are collected at the start of a semester to ensure a smooth stay in the hostel and regular meals in the mess. But the recently passed resolution gives the authorities the power to remove a boarder after a third warning has been issued, on committing a fourth infraction. Seeing that a boarder pays for his/her boarding and meals, expelling them because of four late entries in a semester is absurd and harsh, at the same time.

The authorities have also given no thought or explanation as to how to keep the situation under control when students from outside of NITR come up to stay and participate in fests. One cannot simply coop up one’s visitors and guests on the pretext of guaranteeing safety while infringing on one’s freedom. Such archaic rules may even paint an unsavory picture about NITR in an outsider’s mind.

THE SHOE DOES NOT FIT

What is the reason behind the sudden ratification of such a rule? The authorities are of the opinion that imposing a curfew and ensuring that everyone is tucked in into their beds with no purpose or means to go out, will ensure fewer cases which may impinge on the image of the institute. But the thing is, incidents can happen at any time; just because the last few incidents and accidents took place late at night, doesn’t mean that the same couldn’t have happened at any other point of time in the day. Measures should be taken to prevent such incidents entirely, instead of confining the students, against their will. 

While the rest of India’ s premier institutions are moving forward, understanding the students and their needs, and working towards freeing their minds and bodies; NITR seems to be the riding the wrong train. Guaranteeing a modicum of safety while infringing on one’s free will and freedom is unacceptable and in the end, may cause more harm than good.

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