The petitioner argues that curtailing access to internet violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
A petition has been filed in the High Court of Kerala challenging the restriction imposed on use of mobile phones in a girls hostel.
The petitioner Faheema Shirin, a third semester B.A English student of Sree Narayana College, Chelanur, Kozhikode, alleges that the inmates of girls’ hostel are banned from using mobile phones from 6 PM to 10 PM every day. She, along with few other inmates, had protested the restriction as it was hampering their learning process by depriving them of access to information.
Under coercion from hostel authorities, other inmates agreed to abide by the restriction, alleges Faheema. She had to ultimately face expulsion from the hostel for not choosing to comply with the mobile restriction.
In the writ petition filed in the High Court, she challenges her expulsion from hostel and the rules restricting mobile usage. It is pointed out that the restriction is discriminatory as it is present only in girls hostel.
“The respondents have implemented the said rule only in the girls hostel. Implementation of the rule in the girls hostel and the lack thereof in the boys hostel amounts to discrimination on the basis of gender, and is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. It is submitted that there is no rational nexus between the rule and the objective that it seeks to achieve. On the contrary, the very rule is contradictory to the objective it seeks to achieve”, states the petition filed through Advocates Legith Kottakkal, Surya Binoy and Sneha Vijayan.
The petition states that the hostel regulations violate Clause 3.2.(13) of UGC (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2015, which states that “Concern for the safety of women students must not be cited to impose discriminatory rules for women in the hostels as compared to male students”.
The petition also questions the rationale of restricting mobile usage.
“The restriction on access to internet, by curtailing the use of mobile phones, amounts to a violation of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The internet, accessible through mobile phones or laptops, provides an avenue for the students to gather knowledge as well as to express themselves”, states the petition.
Software Freedom Law Centre, an organization rooting for internet freedom, has joined as party in the case, supporting the petitioner’s right to access internet.
The hostel authorities maintain that the restriction is in the interests of students’ discipline to ensure that they study without distractions.
The Court has required them to file counter-affidavit by next week.
Last February, the High Court had struck down gender discriminatory rules in a hostel, observing that girls have equal freedom as boys. In that case (Anjitha K Jose v State of Kerala), the girls were restricted from attending political meetings, going for movies etc. Quashing the rules, Justice Muhamed Mustaque said :
“It appears that moral choice of the management is attempted to be imposed upon the Boarders. The moral paternalism is something to be frowned upon. A girl is having equal freedom similar to a boy. There are no similar restrictions in the boy’s hostel. It is for the students to decide whether they should go for first or second show movies or not. This is an activity outside the hostel activity.”
The fact that parents have consented to the restrictions will not make them valid, as students who have attained majority have decisional autonomy, the Court had added in that decision.