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Beware of what you wear!

In imposing on students a dress code that proscribes jeans, T-shirts, sleeveless tops, and tight-fitting outfits, the Anna University has taken to an extreme a narrow-minded notion of discipline on the campuses of engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu. Vice Chancellor D. Viswanathan, in a fit of puritanical vigour, has also wielded the axe on film-based cultural events in colleges, in line with the illiberal cultural streak of certain regional political parties. Further, the banning directive of the university to all the affiliated colleges covers any use of mobile phones on campuses. The shallow reasoning behind such moral policing is that certain forms detract from the seriousness of academic pursuits; and that mobile phones, especially camera phones, create problems on campuses, `distracting' students from what they should be doing. But as students' organisations, especially the Students' Federation of India, have pointed out, the dress code is clearly aimed at women, who are seen as `provoking' unwanted male attention because of what they wear. Such obscurantism is not a far cry from the `fatwas' pronounced by certain mullahs against Sania Mirza's tennis-wear. It is also of a piece with the mindset that blames incidents of rape and sexual harassment on the victims. Recently, students of Delhi University organised protests after a college vice-principal demanded a ban on `revealing' wear. Shockingly, the demand for a dress code for women students, which was endorsed by several college authorities, came within a month of a university student being abducted and raped in South Delhi. Not surprisingly, students and women's organisations have become deeply suspicious of attempts by Anna University to pass off the dress code as a step taken in their interest.

Authorities in certain colleges in Tamil Nadu adopt bizarre methods such as fining students for talking to those of the opposite sex, and cutting down trees on the campus to remove any sense of privacy for students outside the classroom. These taboos, far from creating a congenial atmosphere for students, entrench deep-seated complexes and insecurities among young men and heighten the feeling of vulnerability among young women. While a mobile phone, like any other instrument, could be subject to misuse, the authorities should have considered sensible restrictions on their use rather than go for an unenforceable ban. Surely, engineering students should not be asked to view technology as a threat. The blanket ban on film-based cultural programmes smacks of a politically charged diktat. Unfortunately, many colleges, which otherwise have been quick to protest against any encroachment of their domain by the university, have welcomed Dr. Viswanathan's diktat; for some of them, it provides a cloak of legitimacy for their illiberal ways. Such absurd bans and restrictions on adult students are likely to be tested in court. They certainly have no place in a liberal and progressive modern educational environment.

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