Moral policing continues unabated at Hyderabad’s St Francis College for Women, an arts and science college in the city’s Begumpet area. On Friday, multiple students were halted at the gates of the institute because their kurti was an inch above their knees, leading to an altercation with security staff.
Videos of the incident on Friday showed security staff tugging at the kurtis of students and asking them what they were wearing. A video shot from behind a gate also showed the security guard holding it open only for one person to pass through, and in another, a woman security guard can be seen scanning a group of girls and deciding who to send in —all of this, because the height of the kurti was not as prescribed.
Another video showed Principal Sister Sandra Horta questioning a group of students whose kurtas were above their knees. In the video, a few of the girls can be heard telling the Principal that they cannot keep changing wardrobe as everyone cannot afford it
The problem overall dress codes began at St Francis at the end of July, when the college issued a bizarre circular making it mandatory for all students to wear kurtis that touch the knee or are longer, from August 1. The circular was sent on the college WhatsApp group, where the students usually receive their schedules and timetables forwarded from the management.
Students TNM spoke to allege that teachers often make them stand up in class, check the length of their kurti and only then decide to give them attendance for that particular lecture. If the length of their kurti isn’t satisfactory, the student stand to lose attendance for a lecture they attended, they alleged. One student also alleged that in cases where a student did not follow the dress code, then the girl’s parents had to apologise to the principal.
According to Ramya*, an undergraduate student at the college, female security guards were brought in to the college last week, and for three days, students were reprimanded if their kurti was not the ‘right’ length, but they were allowed to enter. However, things came to a head on Friday, when they were tugged at, pushed, and humiliated.
“The first three days they allowed us to go in. They just shouted at us saying ‘what is this’, chased us and pulled us back, but they didn't stop us from going in. But on Friday, they started to stop because apparently they had given a warning,” she says.
Ramya says that this rule was brought in mid-year, and some students did not have the financial ability to buy a new wardrobe that conformed to the new rules.
Furthermore, Ramya says that while some teachers support the students, students haven’t been allowed to have a constructive conversation with the management, but have been allegedly threatened about their attendance and their future.
"People are getting angrier by the minute. We didn't want anyone to touch us. Now, the management is okay with these people behaving with us the way they are. And they believe it's okay because it's a woman and not a male security guard, so they can do that,” alleges Ramya.
According to Vandana*, another student, the principal said that the guards were there for a reason, and that students had to follow what they said, and not waste her time.
“We don't want to be a part of an institution that wants to institutionalise this kind of patriarchy. Speaking to us in such a tone, giving us subliminal messages that we are arousing males, I don't think is a very appropriate environment or a good environment for all of us to be in. I don't think it helps our intellectual development either,” Ramya alleges.
The students have decided to hold a protest on Monday against the college's dress code.
Despite repeated messages and calls, the Principal did not react.