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Kerala High Court Shouldn't Have Supported A Moralising College Against A Living-In Student Couple

In other news, it's 2016.

19/07/2016 4:50 PM IST | Updated 19/07/2016 9:24 PM IST
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Dinuka Liyanawatte / Reuters

Let's try to figure how sex -- between two consenting adults, behind closed doors -- is a breach of 'discipline'. Unless of course, the definitions of discipline and bias have come to resemble each other, by no means should sexual intimacy between two people above 18 years of age send people in positions of authority panting about the demise of 'discipline'. However, chances are most of us were just mildly surprised when the Kerala High Court upheld the decision of a college to expel two students who had decided to live together.

Recently, the Kerala High Court dismissed the petition of a student of Mar Thoma College of Science and Technology, Chadayamangalam, which challenged the college's decision to expel her and her partner for living together. The duo had left their respective homes and had started living together in a Trivandrum lodge. Acting on a missing persons complaint filed by one of the families, the police found them and forced them to go back to their parents' homes. It should be noted here that the girl was above 18 years of age. However, like this Wire.in article points out, the judgment mentions that the boy was below 21 years--the official age for a man to have the right to marry. However, the legal age for consent for both sexes in India is 18, which clearly, the man was older than. The college or the judgment doesn't suggest that the man was a minor.

The most baffling bit of the Kerala HC's judgment is that the bench did not question the petitioner's contention that she was in the fourth semester of her course and had excellent academic record in the college. Yet, the judgment chose to side with the college, and its 'enquiry commission's finding that leaving home and living together was adversely affecting 'the discipline of the education institution itself'.

Explaining their decision to side with the college, the court said, "This is not a mere case of falling in love; but two students taking the drastic step of eloping and living together without even contracting a marriage. As consenting adults they could definitely act according to their volition. But, here they could not have even legally entered into a marriage. When taking such drastic step for the sake of love, as adults, they should also be ready to face the consequences. The Management's concern of setting an example to the other students and ensuring maintenance of discipline in the educational institution cannot be easily brushed aside."

Now, let the irony sink in. The court, like the college, takes exception to the 'drastic step of eloping', mostly because of the man cannot legally marry. Yet, they decided that the duo should have to bear the consequences of the decisions they made as 'adults'.

And what is the nature of those consequences? Expulsion from college, which results in the course of their education to be completely derailed, their future jeopardised, hope and possibility of being professionally employed snatched or made extremely difficult. And what's their fault, again? Repeat with me till it hits you--falling in love and wanting to live together.

Unfortunately, what the college and the judgment wants to call 'discipline', sounds scarily like what a part of India, cooped up under a blanket of patriarchy, usually calls 'honour'. 'Honour'--a collection of arbitrary diktats in India that gloriously disavows personal freedoms, especially ones of the sexual nature. The Kerala HC's version of 'discipline' therefore almost resembles the misbegotten ideas of 'sanskaar' nursed by a majority of India, which treats sex as a social obligation that has to come with the stamp of marriage. And not a matter of personal choice.

The college's unwillingness to let students who have had a sexual relationship (and didn't hide it), mingle with others, reeks of primitive anxieties over 'moral corruption'. And their move to have the students expelled also has roots in the idea that ostracism of that sort will intimidate and prevent others from rejecting a moral narrative the college authorities prefer personally. Basically, it's their way, or the highway.

The most disturbing bit of this entire episode is perhaps the fact that these ideas were propagated and endorsed by an educational institute and a court - the first, ideally should make young people aware of personal freedoms and the latter should help protecting them.

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