As many as 68 girls from Shri Sahajanand Girls’ Institute (SSGI) in Gujarat’s Bhuj were allegedly forced to remove their underwear to prove they weren’t menstruating, it is learnt.

According to a report in the Ahmedabad Mirror, the incident reportedly took place Thursday after the hostel rector complained to the principal that menstruating students were violating “religious norms”.

According to the news report, the 68 girl students were paraded from the college to the hostel restroom, after the warden accused them of venturing into the temple on the college premises and touching fellow students. At the washroom, every girl was asked to prove she was not menstruating, said the report.

The college is affiliated to the Krantiguru Shyamji Krishna Verma Kachchh University, which has said it will take action.

The institute

SSGI advertises itself as an establishment that believes in providing “quality education of global standards on a strong foundation of Indian values and traditions to girl students based on current advances in science, technology and societal demands”. It also places “emphasis on commitment progress, peace, harmony and national integration”.

The college is managed by the Swaminarayan Dwisatabdi Medical & Charitable Trust. Founded in 2012, the institute was moved to a new building in 2014. SSGI offers programmes such as BCom, BA, BSc, and has enrolled over 1,500 students.

The Swaminarayan sect’s norms state that girls, when menstruating, cannot enter a temple or kitchen. At the institute, girls are reportedly also barred from touching other students during those days.

Most of the girls allegedly harassed by the college administration come from remote villages.

Quoting one of the students, the news report said, “The hostel administration levelled this allegation and insulted us on Wednesday. On Thursday, when we were attending lectures, rector Anjaliben called the principal and complained about this. We were forced to leave our classrooms and queue up outside in the passage. The principal abused and insulted us, asking which of us were having our periods. Two of us who were menstruating stepped aside.”

Despite this, she added, they were all taken to the washroom where “female teachers asked us to individually remove our undergarments so they could check if they were menstruating”.

Another student said, “We come from far-flung villages. The college campus houses a school that runs classes from Class 1 to 12. They provide hostel facilities to the school students. The college does not have its own hostel. We live with the school kids in their hostel.”

No police complaint so far

According to the news report, some students claimed that this isn’t the first time that they have been harassed and “punished” by the principal and the trustees over menstruation.

When the students protested, the report said, trustee Pravin Pindoria told them that they could take legal action but would have to leave the hostel first. The students were also allegedly made to sign a letter claiming that “nothing had happened in college”.

The girls haven’t filed a police complaint so far. They alleged that the administration called their parents and “emotionally blackmailed” them into not escalating the matter, with the authorities maintaining that this was a “religious matter” that didn’t warrant being taken to the police.

Asked to comment on the matter, trustee P.H. Hirani, told the Ahmedabad Mirror: “We run a charitable organisation and take token fee. As the institute has a temple on campus, the girls have been instructed to follow the sect’s rules. However, what happened to the students is unfair. Action will be taken.”

Darshana Dholakiya, the Vice-Chancellor in-charge, said, “We will take strict action against whoever is responsible for this kind of behaviour.”

In April 2017, a similar incident occurred in government-run Kasturba Gandhi Junior Residential School in Khatauli, Uttar Pradesh. A warden forced 70 female students to strip naked so she could check if they were menstruating. This happened after the warden got “angry” when she spotted blood in the toilet and “no-one owned up to” it. Surekha Tomar, the warden, was later terminated from service.

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