Faheema Shirin is the latest campus icon in India, thanks to her successful legal fight that restored students' rights to use mobile phones and internet at the hostels.
Acting on her petition, the Kerala High Court on Friday ordered that “no one should restrict students from using internet and mobile phones at the hostels, and that discipline shall not be be enforced by blocking the ways and means of students to acquire knowledge.”
Faheema is a second year BA English Literature student at the Sree Narayana Guru College in Chelannur in Kozhikode. She used to stay in the college hostel until she was expelled for not abiding by the restriction on mobile phone use. Inmates were asked not to use mobile phones between 10pm and 6 am.
The court also directed the college to re-admit Faheema at the hostel.
In an interview with Onmanorama, the 18-year-old said she did not expect such a positive verdict from the court. “It was a surprise verdict. I did not expect a favourable verdict, because we live in a society that imposes restrictions on youngsters. My intention was to kick-start a debate on the use of mobile phone,” she said.
“Students in Kerala colleges face many issues. Ban on mobile phone use is just one among them. Students should fight legally when authorities deny them their rights,” she said.
'No one stood by my side'
When the college decided to impose restriction, Faheema wrote a letter to the principal Dr Devi Priya, who is also the hostel warden, stating that she would not abide by the rule.
“No one in the hostel stood by my side,” she said. “Students asked me why couldn't I cheat the hostel authorities by using hidden spare phone in my room,” Shirin said.
When stood firm on her stand, the college authorities collected consent letters from other students who were ready to obey the rule. “A few post graduate students protested the ban in the beginning. After sometime, they too gave consent letters to obey the rule,” Shirin said.
Her adamant stand forced the college authorities to summon her father Haksar RK, a news photographer. But Haksar stood by his daughter, much to the chagrin of the college authorities, resulting in her expulsion from the hostel. And she started travelling 150km everyday to attend classes.
“College students are mature Indian citizens with all the Constitutional rights. Colleges cannot restrict our basic rights. We are not posing any threat or difficulty to others by using mobile phones,” Shirin said.
After the expulsion, Shirin launched the legal battle. With the help of her father, Shirin searched similar cases filed by college students in the past. She came across a case filed by Anjitha K Jose, a student of Sree Kerala Varma College in Thrissur, against gender discrimination.
The Kerala High Court had, in March 2019, ordered that a woman has equal rights as a man. “Women students are often expected to adhere to the regressive rules imposed by the college bodies,” the court had observed in the verdict.
Shirin contacted Anjitha and her advocates. “It was through Anjitha, Arjun and others from Sree Kerala Varma College that I got familiar with a lawyers' association who takes up the issues faced by students,” Shirin recalled.
The lawyers' and law students' collective - 'Your Lawyer Friend' - was formed in the backdrop of the suicide of Thrissur Nehru College student Jishnu Pranoy. The collective assigned Advocate Legit to appear for Shirin.
Legit too was pessimistic about the case. “It was the first such case in Kerala,” he said.
Shirin said some colleges have imposed restrictions on the dress students wear. Some others have regulations on the food students eat. “It is high time students fought against the injustice,” she said.