"Where were you last night?"

- Aishwarya Rebelly , Journal Club

2018-02-28

Cultural

Two hours after midnight every day, BITS campus reverberates with the sound of the hostel chowkidarsí whistle, signaling to all the nocturnal wanderers that itís time to tuck in for the night. Girls and boys head back to their respective hostels before the Bhawan gates close, lest theyíre left to fend for themselves in the cold, dark night outside.

Before going to their rooms however, the girls give proof of their return to the hostel through a biometric scanner. The system of biometric attendance is a wonderful safety measure, a way to monitor and ensure that the student is present and healthy.

Every time a student doesnít give biometric, it is registered in the hostel supervisorís records. The next day when the chowkidar sees the student on her way in or out of the hostel, she is made to sign an undertaking citing her reasons for not giving biometric attendance. But, if the student is not seen by the chowkidar outside her room, the assistant supervisor goes to the studentís room to check if sheís in her room and is ok, following which she is made to sign the undertaking. Considering most of us at BITS are allotted single rooms, this protocol of checking up on the students makes certain that the student is not in any peril due to ill health or any other reason for that matter.

Then why is such an important safekeeping measure only restricted to the girls? Does the administration not care enough about the safety of its male students? Why isnít a similar system of checks implemented for the boys?

Unless of course the biometric system is used less as a means of safekeeping and more as a means to police our movements as is evident by the undertaking. If the intention is safety then one signature the next day as proof of well being should be enough. Instead, the undertaking demands that we give one of 3 options reason for not marking attendance :
1) I was outside campus without taking prior permission and outstation form.
2) I was on campus but did not return back to my hostel room.
3) I was inside the hostel but didnít give attendance due to negligence.

If a student is well and normal the next day, why is she made to declare her whereabouts? What purpose does this serve? For the past week or so, the hostel assistants are even going door-to-door to note down which rooms are locked after 2 AM to correspond with the reason the student gives in her undertaking. When a student doesnít give biometric attendance for many days, she is made to go and talk to the warden. Often students have even been asked to call their parents. These consequences of not giving biometric however seem to be arbitrary and subjective, completely based on the biases and discretion of the supervisors. While some girls were left scot-free even after foregoing biometric for a number of days, some were made to call their parents just after two days even though the undertaking was signed on both days.

Boys, on the other hand, do not have any system to check their whereabouts despite having a 2 AM cutoff. As long as they are not caught outside during the night they are basically left alone and face no consequences whatsoever. This means that they can also go out of the campus and remain outside without an outstation form, while girls have to get their parents to call the supervisor and take prior permission, grown-up Ph.D. students included.

You might wonder what is the problem in declaring oneís whereabouts if she hasnít done anything wrong? Why is the student reluctant to call her parents if she knows sheís on the right?
Well, it is a matter of principle. Why should an adult over the age of 18, capable of making her own decisions be put through these situations?
One would then argue that this is a college with its own rules to enforce discipline, that the students need to adhere to by virtue of being a part of this community.
But why then are these rules imposed only on a section of the population and not on all individuals?

If the sole motive of biometric attendance was safety then there are better methods to implement it. Calls can and should be made to parents if the whereabouts of the students are not known to the administration and if they believe the studentís well being is somehow threatened. But the way it is done now seems unfair, prejudiced and is an extremely convenient way to shame girls for what their male counterparts do not have to think twice about.

While every system has pros and cons, this one certainly can be used in a more proper way.