VIT University sets a dangerous precedent by dismissing two female students for the very act of asking their peers' opinions concerning gender discrimination and safety on campus. Moreover, gender-specific restrictions at VIT and other private universities put Indian women at an educational disadvantage relative to those at more egalitarian universities, which may limit their career opportunities and pose disadvantages when applying to graduate schools.
VIT University (Tamil Nadu, India) has more than 20,000 students and ranks high among private Indian universities. In committing publicly to the principles and practice of gender equality, VIT could well drive a progressive shift in policies and attitudes toward women across Indian universities, and ultimately, Indian society.
[UPDATE, 21 October 2013: VIT University has fired Professor Ted Moallem, author of this petition. Students who met with him recently have been interrogated by VIT administrators. Most VIT students are too afraid to speak out. Please, let us take heed and address this now. India deserves better!]
[UPDATE, 24 October 2013: I am required to meet with Vellore police for the third day running. My movement is restricted, my plan to attend an event in Hyderabad tomorrow is "not permitted". The police have visited the homes and questioned the families of my co-worker, one of my students, and the owner of the house where I am staying. All are terrified.]
[UPDATE, 8 November 2013: Both women have now returned to campus, though VIT officials have yet to provide any written indication of the basis for their dismissal or the conditions for their return. Ted Moallem has returned to the U.S. following VIT's annulment of his work visa. In response to recent public attention, VIT announced that Hostel ID cards, currently carried by female students only, will soon be replaced by electronic equivalent. However, the University has made no move to reduce discrimination against female students or to encourage/tolerate public discussion of university policies.]
Two female students were dismissed from college for conducting a survey on Female Safety & Gender Discrimination
Gender Inequity @ VIT University
- Female VIT students only, upon exiting VIT campus (e.g., to visit street vendors) must undergo fingerprint scanning and submit to security guards a special "hostel ID card", issued to women only. Upon re-entry to campus, their fingerprint is scanned again as they collect their hostel ID. These measures serve as a general deterrent, discouraging females from exiting the campus for any reason, and in complying with them, female students must queue at the campus gates, abasing themselves before their male peers, who can simply show standard ID and walk freely in and out of campus.
- Female VIT students are, by default, not allowed to leave the campus during weekends, holidays, or campus festivals, but must formally request permission of hostel officials, who may grant or deny permission at their discretion. Male students have no such regulations.
These rules are but two examples, and we are not advocating changes to individual rules. Rather, we strongly encourage VIT University to commit publicly to guiding principles of gender equality and gender-neutral governance. We recognize that this will constitute a great step forward for a private university in southern India today. In the process, VIT stands to gain the genuine respect and public admiration of top-rated, forward-thinking academic institutions and prospective employers worldwide.
We note in particular that, according to the students’ survey results, 84% of about 400 female VIT students responding indicated that they are discouraged from “speaking out publicly against VIT’s management decisions” due to “fear of expulsion, suspension or other academic devastation”. Even assuming a wide margin of error, the fact that so many female students harbor feelings of fear and disempowerment should greatly concern the university, the parents, and of course, the students and prospective students themselves. Surely it is VIT’s objective that its students should spend their last few formative years learning how to peacefully and effectively stand up for their beliefs. India’s most intelligent graduates should emerge into the world with a strong sense of empowerment, prepared to build India into a socio-economic superpower.
We approach you now in the spirit of cooperation, not to make demands, but to earnestly request your partnership in ushering forth a new era of global education, in which discrimination on the basis of gender holds no more place than discrimination on bases of race, caste, or creed.
According to the survey for which the two VIT students were dismissed, among the roughly 400 female VIT students who responded,
- 84% indicated that they are discouraged from “speaking out publicly against VIT’s management decisions” due to “fear of expulsion, suspension or other academic devastation”
- 87% “feel that VIT’s unequal and restrictive rules leave VIT women less prepared than their male peers to deal with life after graduation/leaving VIT”
- 91% “believe that the strict "In-Time" rules and lengthy procedures to acquire outing/leave permissions” deprive them of “academic, extra-curricular, and/or professional opportunities”
- 84% believe that a woman herself “has the ultimate right and responsibility to decide a woman’s schedule, movements, activities and interactions”
- 97% believe that “Self-defense and Alertness training for female students” would better address the issue of “Rape Prevention” than does VIT’s current system of protection by confinement
- 92% believe that a “Fingerprinting system for all males above the age of twelve” would minimize “the possibility of sexual assault on campus” more effectively that VIT’s current “Fingerprinting and Hostel ID system for female students only”
[Survey results retrieved on12 October 2013 from http://home.e4d.in/vit-female-student-survey-results]