The Tamil Nadu government has lately been beset by a peculiar problem – sporadic cases of female teachers eloping with their male students. But more peculiar than the problem has been the advice given by teachers’ associations on how to deal with it – draping female teachers in lawyerly black robes to make sure that students feel no sexual attraction for them.

The advice came after two romances appeared in the news. On March 31, a 26-year-old teacher of a government-aided school in Kadayanallur ran off with a 16-year-old boy. About a fortnight later, a 22-year-old female teacher at a tutorial college in Dindugal district eloped with a 20-year-old.

Troubled by these affairs, the government set up an informal committee and called in teachers’ associations for discussions. These were their recommendations to avoid such dalliances in the future: black lawyer's gowns for female teachers in corporation schools, a ban on carrying mobile phones to classrooms, and perpetual CCTV surveillance to preclude any blossoming student-teacher love affairs.

Though social media has been mocking the advice, the teachers’ associations have obdurately blamed western clothes and “skin exposure” for possible affections between teachers and students.

“Students come to study and teachers should do their job instead of indulging in fashion,” said Antony Anbarasu, president of the Tamil Nadu Higher Secondary Post Graduate Teachers Association. “If teachers wear western attire like tight T-shirts, jeans and short clothing, students may get influenced and their attention will waver.”

Anbarasu says his association has asked the government to formulate a strict code of conduct to uphold morality and curb teacher-student love affairs. “Teachers these days come heavily made up and wear attractive jewellery, which is not healthy for the educational environment in a classroom as students concentrate more on them.”

No short clothes

Another cause of the romances, according to Anbarasu, is mobile phones. “Teachers are focused on WhatsApp, and they chat even in class. We want them to leave their phones behind when they enter classrooms and concentrate only on teaching instead of cultivating relationships.” He feels popular messaging apps might be helping teachers befriend students and then romance them.

S Tamilani, president of the Tamil Nadu Government Colleges Teachers Association, agrees. He declares that a code of conduct is necessary though his association is not actively demanding it.

“It’s an unwritten rule that western attire is not allowed in Tamil Nadu colleges,” he said. “The government has said the clothing should be decent and comfortable, which western wear isn’t, so we don’t encourage this.”

Tamilani believes that western clothing is indecent besides being uncomfortable. “As men can’t wear short clothes in the heat, so shouldn’t women,” he argued. “We want to ensure that our teachers are comfortable, and traditional Indian dresses are suitable in all respects.”

What if someone wears jeans and T-shirt to the college or carries a mobile phone into the class? “There are rules but they need to be enforced,” said Tamilani. “The teachers who break them need to be fined and given minor punishments. This is why we want CCTV cameras in all classrooms.”

Absurd actions

While a few sections of teachers’ associations are vigorously calling for a code of conduct, others are convincing people that this is not the best way forward.

“The idea that clothes can prevent a student from falling for a teacher is ridiculous,” said a member of the Tamil Nadu Higher Secondary Post Graduate Teachers Association requesting anonymity. “Whatever other members of this association might think, they need to get a reality check before going forward with these strange set of rules, which would only give impetus to absurd actions.”

S Murugan, district secretary of the Tamil Nadu Post Graduate Teachers Association, was quoted by the New Indian Express as saying: “We welcome suggestions that teachers shouldn’t carry mobile phones to class, but not for a specific dress code for women teachers. In the near future, the association members would ask women teachers to cover even their faces while teaching.”

A teacher from a graduate college in the state condemns the objectification of women because of a few odd cases. “Instead of focusing on real issues like quality of education and the pedagogy in schools, they are forming policies to tackle odd instances of love affairs,” she said. “Tomorrow, a teacher might elope with someone outside school and the student might elope with someone from his neighbourhood. Whose phone or attire will they blame then?”