Adulthood and Responsibility


This article has been written by Croor Singh, an alumnus of IIT Madras (DD/AE/2010) in context of the recent rule restricting the entry of visitors of the opposite sex to hostel common rooms.

cartoonI was at IITM for five years. It will surprise nobody if I say that these were formative years and that they gave me memories I will forever cherish. So I won’t. In my first three years at IITM, I had one female acquaintance. She used to visit friends of mine in the room next-door. I expect I was at the non-social end of the bell-curve of affability or self-consciousness. What IITM did was to help me change for the better, and do it at my own pace.

Unless you have been living under a rock, or you never venture out of your room (I know a thing or two about this), you know that the administration at IITM is mooting prohibiting women from entering men’s rooms. “Regarding our request to have a place where girls and guys can interact and study etc, each hostel will have a visitors lounge (common room for the time being) where girls and boys can meet and have fun,” reads an email from the student council. “Such a lounge will be made in Sharav also. But no entry into rooms will be allowed effective from today.” (Emphasis theirs)1

This prohibition will add to the list of things that students at IITM are not allowed to do. Smoking and drinking are on this list – this is the law of the land2. You might say these laws are silly, or that the application of these laws on college students is cruel and unusual3. I usually would, but my brief here isn’t that. Students at IITM are not allowed to sign a form that says one will not use a vehicle on campus; or that one wants to change to a different field of study; or that one wants to change to a dual degree programme from a BTech programme. I could go on. A parent or guardian has to sign every one of these forms.

I adduce the above list to point out that the latest move by the administration is true to form. Students are pesky children. They do not know what is good for them. As such, they are best cared for under the supervision of wardens. IITM is, after all, home away from home. I have no reason to doubt the intentions of the people in charge of policy at IITM. But maybe I am not far off-base if I suggest that they are going about it wrong.4

To me, adulthood means two things: taking responsibility for myself, and accepting the consequences of my actions. The administration at IITM (or those of any of the other colleges which have similar if not harsher rules) seems willing to let its students do neither. It occurs to me that this is representative of this society and our times: parents choose what colleges their children should attend, what subjects they should major in, what hobbies they should have, who their friends should be, whom they should get married to (everybody, of course, has to get married). A wrong choice about any of these would be a setback; professionally, personally; and parents – and by inferences the administration at IITM – are naturally worried. But making mistakes is part of growing up, surely. Mistakes are how we learn. No parent or administrator can claim to know the secret to making no mistakes in life. And barring that, taking away somebody’s right to privacy seems like a bit much.

I have had the luck of having reasonable parents and the privilege of finding a wonderful research supervisor. I know they worry about my well-being. But it is, ultimately, my life and my funeral. They offer suggestions and leave the decisions to me. They are there to offer support when my mistakes from time to time cost me. And they do all this without judgement.

Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect all this of professors in as large an institution as IITM. However, it seems to me that all the students of IITM are asking is that the possibility that they have something private to share with somebody of the opposite sex be entertained.

1 The General Secretary of Sharavati sent this to residents of Sharavati after she and members of the Students’ Council met the administration. A friend of mine forwarded the email to me.

2 a) The legal drinking age in Tamil Nadu is 21.

b) It is illegal in India for tobacco to be sold to anyone under the age of 21.

3 Possession and sale of marijuana are illegal in the Netherlands. But coffee-shops flourish and nobody gets punished because punishing somebody would be cruel and unusual. This is legalese, if you like, for ‘everybody does it’.

4 My archetype for this is Prof. N.S. Narayanaswamy – ‘Nari’, the warden of Tapti hostel – who wanted to take down all ceiling fans and bulldoze all windows. I had an extended conversation with him. I think he is a decent person who wants to do good. My interview with him is here.


Click here to read an interview with the Dean of Students about the same issue.

Also, T5E conducted a small video survey (Vox Populi) about this issue. Click here to view it.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Fifth Estate or IIT Madras. For specific queries and feedback, leave a message or mail us at t5e.iitm[at]

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