Students say colleges cutting their hair to discipline them is equivalent to harassment‘We cut hair at Rs50, while other shops charge around Rs100 to Rs200. It is actually more profitable to students,’ one college principal said, defending his institution’s practice.
It started as a regular Sunday morning for 18-year-old Prakash. But as he queued for class, the college’s discipline incharge pulled him aside and asked him about his hair. He first tried to convince the faculty that the length of his hair was shorter than many of his college mates.
When he failed, he said he would get a haircut before returning the following day. But the discipline incharge was already armed with scissors and started cutting his hair.
The incident left Prakash so traumatised that he didn’t leave the classroom for the rest of the day.
“It happened in front of all my friends and I felt really embarrassed,” says Prakash, who asked only to be identified by his first name. “Had the college informed me a day prior, I would have cut it myself.”
With a surge in private colleges in Kathmandu, inter-school competition has moved from board exam-based results to imposing strict rules on students. Although colleges say rules and regulations are in place to prevent students from becoming disorderly and distracted, many students complain that the policing of rules sometimes goes overboard—in fact, some say it borders on harassment.
But according to Shankar Prasad Gaire, principal of Times International College, where Prakash studies, all students are expected to keep their hair according to specific instructions provided by the college administration.
“We can’t go to each and every student and remind them to follow the rules each week. It is a general rule and students are made aware of them when they are first admitted to college,” Gaire says.
Shorter hair is a common rule for male students in most private colleges, as is neatly-tied hair for females. Many students are aware of the rules and adhere to it to avoid getting into trouble, which could range from them being barred from classes to not being let into campus entirely.
“If you want to control a child, control his hair first,” says Sudhan Prasad Dautel, the principal of Liverpool College, whose fee receipts that included ‘haircutting charge’ went viral on Nepali meme pages a few months ago.
“By controlling students’ hair, we are preparing some responsible citizens for the future,” Dautel adds. But he says his college goes ahead and cut their students’ hair only after the guardians' consent and, sometimes, upon the request of parents themselves.
“We cut hair at Rs50, while other shops charge around Rs100 to Rs200. It is actually more profitable to students,” he says.
But Saluja Chand, Dean of Women and Counsellor at St Xavier’s College in Maitighar, has a different take. She says the college doesn’t require its students to wear any formal uniforms because the college wants to promote the decision-making ability among students from something as trivial as what to wear for school. For Chand, it’s imperative that the college inculcates values within its students organically rather than imposing rules and regulations.
“At the end of the day, students should grow up to become good human beings,” says Chand. “Having hard and fast rules don’t mean they will grow up to become moral, but rather they should be able to express themselves freely where they study.”
Conforming students to a strict uniform code, including the grooming of nails and hair, has been a global debate. Just this week, students in Bristol, United Kingdom, took to the streets against such rule. In Japan, the school system has been criticised for being strictly education-focused rather than highlighting personality-building.
Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher at Britain's ‘strictest school’—Michaela Community School in London—says regulations on hairstyles and accessories are implemented in the school premises because of their professional ethos. She gives two main reasons for implementing strict rules: to refrain students from endangering themselves and to induce the concept of unity.
Gaire, the principal of Times International College, shares the same theory. He says attending college doesn’t mean students are getting a good education, they have to feel that they are psychologically in the right environment.
What is unfair, some students say, is when the discipline counsellors refuse to take into account some extenuating circumstances.
“The discipline incharge in my college asked me to borrow money from my friends if I couldn’t afford to cut his hair,” said Neeraj, a student at Kathmandu Model College in Bagbazar, recalling an incident when he told his teacher he didn’t have enough money.
The 18-year-old, who also asked only to be identified by his first name, says those disciplinarians resort to corporal punishment if they believe the length of the hair inappropriate. But college administrations denies these allegations.
“We don’t have such hard and fast rules. We just want the hair of our students to look managed and presentable,” says Durga Raj Pandey, the counselling in-charge of Kathmandu Model College. “We maintain such criteria for hairstyles and uniforms because we want homogeneity among students, irrespective of their culture, background and economic status.”
According to Pandey, allowing students to follow fashion trends in the name of encouraging self-expression might affect the self-esteem of those students from middle-class families whose parents can’t afford what’s trending.
But students say college administrations take a one-sided and strict approach to maintaining their rules.
“I am not against having a well-groomed hairstyle but I need to be comfortable too, which was less of a concern for college administrators,” says Mamta Regmi, who also graduated from Kathmandu Model College.
While many students say they don’t have any qualms following rules and regulations at their respective educational institutions, they say the approach of discipline counsellors are not always appropriate.
Ramesh Subedi, whose son is also a student at Times International, says it is unnecessary for the college administration to nitpick on such trivial matters. “Such practices are definitely not good. Short hair isn’t equivalent to a good performance,” he says. “Students should be able to feel confident when they express themselves—which is also one of the life lessons that one should learn early on,” says Subedi.
When asked if all these college administrators had such hard and fast rules during their high school years, all of them interviewed for the story said they didn’t.
“During our time, we feared even from the name of our teachers, but today’s students don’t seem to care,” says Sagar Kharel, another counselling incharge of Kathmandu Model College. “Even the guardians can’t control their children these days. So, the college needs to keep them on track with its strict rules and regulations.”
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