Six hundred students from NIFT, Kerala protest against physical, sexual abuse

Updated: Mar 20, 2018, 19:06 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Six hundred students of the design school forced to take out massive protest rally after facing appalling physical and sexual abuse at the hands of local residents of Kannur; cops offer helpline number

All the students of NIFT protested on the college premises on March 15, fed up of the constant abuse by locals in Kannur
All the students of NIFT protested on the college premises on March 15, fed up of the constant abuse by locals in Kannur

Struggling for two years against a shocking spate of abuse against both the male and female students of National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), more than 600 of them from the first year to the final year, including several from Mumbai, were forced to come out in protest last week. That day, March 15, 46 students handed in complaints to the college director detailing the horror they had to endure every single day — catcalling, molestation, sexual harassment, stalking and cyber bullying.

Fortunately, the protest has got the attention of the college management, senior police officers, local municipal officials and the Kannur collector, who have assured the students that appropriate steps will be taken to prevent such incidents outside the campus. The security inside the institute will be NIFT's responsibility, they said.

Wrong perceptions
Strangely, the college is perceived as a den of depravity by the locals who live around it. A male student, who hails from Punjab and who was himself a victim of sexual abuse by a local, said, "People in Kannur district somehow have the wrong perception of students of this college. They treat us with appalling disrespect in public places. They think nothing of teasing, molesting, grabbing, hitting and bullying us online. This has only been getting worse with time. We had no option but to protest to draw public attention towards our plight."

The student described his own horror story. "I had gone out around 7.30 pm to buy dinner from a hotel two kilometres from the campus. The man at the reception, who was in his early forties, asked if I was from NIFT. He then asked me to take a room at the hotel. I was puzzled and refused, saying I had an apartment. He then accompanied me to the food counter and as we were coming down in the elevator, he squeezed my groin. I was speechless from shock," he said.

Fear of being beaten up
Asked why he did not react or register a police complaint, he said he feared he would be beaten up by the locals if he protested and did not file a complaint as he did not know the local language."

Interestingly, hundreds of students from all over India, especially Mumbai, North East, J&K, Punjab, etc, have enrolled for the four-year undergraduate and two-year post graduate courses at the college, which was set up in 2008. It is one of the 17 NIFTs run by the textile ministry.

Another student, who is from Mumbai, said, "I have been studying here for the past three years and can vouch for the unbelievable happenings. The campus is located 10 kilometres from the main city and most of roads connecting to the campus are deserted and unlit. Our parents know that if they have sent us so far to pursue an education in fashion technology, they trust us to not do anything wrong."

She said, "There is acute moral policing within and outside the campus. We are subjected to lengthy questioning if we are spotted in clothes that are short or that the faculty feels is inappropriate. And, we are afraid to step out in clothes we like because there have been numerous instances of local men making sexual advances and even masturbating in front of the girls."

Enough is enough!
A recent incident was the trigger that galvanised the students into action. A female student, who was undergoing treatment for asthma, was walking on the road outside the campus when two men on a motorcycle hit her hard on her chest. The student fell on the ground and had a severe asthma attack. Fortunately, as the incident happened close to the campus gate, help reached her quickly.

On March 15, all the students of the college took out a rally, pressing their demand for the safety of students. The students claim that the director and hostel warden have been ignoring their pleas and instead of taking stern action against the offenders, would instead tell the students to refrain from wearing certain clothes. They were also stopped from going out of the hostel after 8 pm.

 

Officials say
Dr N Elangovan, director, NIFT, Kannur, was not available for comment. G Ramesh Babu, joint director, confirmed the protest rally by the students, but downplayed the situation, stating that only two female students had come forward to complain and those had been forwarded to the police.

When told that 46 complaints were made, Babu said, "If the students are claiming that the incidents had been happening for the past two years, how come they decided to complain all at one go? We haven't received any complaints before."

On the rally organised last Thursday, Babu said, "We had decided to take out a rally to mark International Women's Day celebrations, but as the rally got cancelled, we allowed the students to take out another rally."

Babu added, "We will now be installing six CCTV cameras in and around the campus, and street lights will be put by the local municipality outside. We, too, are concerned about the safety of our students, but even they need to wear appropriate, decent clothes when they are outside the campus."

When asked to explain 'decent' clothes, Babu said students sometimes ventured out wearing shorts, skirts and T-shirts, which is a matter of concern, as local men get a reason to harass them.

Mir Mohammed Ali, Collector, Kannur, said, "We have addressed two issues that the students raised: a) intensify police patrolling and b) to have street lights in and around the campus. We have instructed the police to intensify patrolling, which they have already started, and nearly 50 per cent of the area in and around the campus is lit. For the remaining areas, we have instructed the local municipal secretary to do the needful."

When asked, if they had a helpline number for students to call if in distress, the Collector said, "The local police have shared a mobile number that they can use to reach out to in case of an emergency." K V Venugopal, DY SP, Thaliparamba, Kannur, said, "We have registered a case under section 354 of the IPC (where the girl was hit on the chest) and had even detained a few suspects, but had to release them, as the complainant could not identify the suspects. We have intensified patrolling in the area, and have been questioning all the men who loiter around the campus area."

"We have no role inside the campus, but our concern is also to ensure there is no attempt or case of substance abuse by students. There is indeed a vast difference in culture and living habits of students, which we have no control over, but at some point the students themselves must take precautions and safeguard themselves. We have advised the students to venture out in the night only in groups and not in isolation. Also, directives are being followed by hostel wardens to see to it that no female student ventures out alone," he said.

Sarada Muraleedharan, director general, NIFT, Delhi, was not available for comment despite several messages left with her office.

Rubbish, say students
Students have rubbished the joint director's statement that it was an International Women's Day rally planned before theirs and that CCTV cameras were being put up post the protest. A student, who did not wish to be identified, said, "The CCTV cameras were to be put up soon after an episode in September last year inside the campus when there was tension between two groups during a college event. Ever since, the management has been saying CCTV cameras will be put up. Also, the police patrolled the area outside the campus for a few days after our protest and now they have stopped."

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