Documentary channel

In ‘The Sound of Silence’, segregated classrooms, hostel curfews and ‘boys, oh no never’

Bina Paul’s documentary examines gender issues on college campuses in Kerala.

One of the most telling testimonials in The Sound of Silence, Bina Paul’s documentary on how gender issues play out in Kerala’s colleges, is by Dinu, a student in Kozhikode.

In 2015, Dinu was suspended for breaking one of the rules stipulated by his college: “Girls and boys must sit separately in a classroom.” When Dinu tried to question the rule, he and his friends were asked to leave the classroom. The situation worsened when the principal ruled that Dinu and his classmates could enter the classroom only after they brought their parents to college.

A stay order from the local court finally got Dinu back into the classroom.

“How does sitting together on a bench become a disciplinary issue?” he poignantly asks in Paul’s compelling documentary. “It was nothing but moral policing.”

The Sound of Silence, which was screened at the Public Service Broadcasting Trust’s Open Frame festival in Delhi, travels to various colleges across Kerala and records voices such as Dinu’s. The film explores issues linked to gender, including segregation, rules that put severe curbs on the movement of women, and pressure on female students to marry and abandon their education.

Through interviews with students, teachers, parents and heads of institutions, Paul finds a veiled silence when it comes to talking about gender justice in colleges. The rules, though, are plenty: a girl must not be seen on campus with a boy after class hours. All girls must be back inside their rooms by 7pm.

In the case of Dinu too, the trouble began when he questioned this silence. “There is segregation but the way they treat students who question this is totally inhuman,” he says in the film.

The Sound of Silence (2017).

A report commissioned by the Kerala State Higher Education Council triggered Paul’s documentary.

In 2015, there was a spike in protests on campuses across Kerala. A few months before Dinu’s case, female students from a college in Thiruvananthapuram had squatted outside their hostel as a form of protest against the 6.30pm curfew. “Why not an early curfew for boys as well?” asked one of the students, leading what became popularly known as the Break the Curfew protests. A report called Samagati was finally sanctioned on the lines of Saksham, a similar report commissioned by the University Grants Commission. The goal of the Samagati report was to examine issues of gender on campuses in Kerala.

However, Paul found that the report’s findings were beginning to be ignored. “The report commissioned in 2015 is gathering dust after being presented to the government,” said Paul, a veteran film editor and one of the guiding forces behind the International Film Festival of Kerala. “What this film tries to do is corroborate the report that exposed structural problems in campuses regarding gender and had suggested recommendations that were considered far-fetched.”

The Sound of Silence comes in the midst of the trial of the actor Dileep, who has been arrested for his alleged involvement in the case related to the abduction and assault of a female actor. Paul, who is one of the founding members of a women’s collective for the Malayalam film industry , has been vocal about the widespread culture of misogyny in Malayalam cinema.

“I began making the film before the case, but after that the dots have begun to connect,” Paul said. “What can you expect from a society so deeply entrenched in patriarchy? This is not to do with Kerala or India but rather a worldview that women are struggling against. But change has happened because women are refusing to accept the status quo.”

The Sound of Silence (2017). Image credit: Public Service Broadcasting Trust.
The Sound of Silence (2017). Image credit: Public Service Broadcasting Trust.

The Sound of Silence busts the stereotype that Kerala is a deeply progressive state when it comes to women. The documentary opens with an interview with Meenakshi Gopinath, the chairperson of the committee that drafted the Samagati report. “What we found startlingly belied our expectations of Kerala,” Gopinath says in the film. “Kerala, we had seen as a progressive state that had enacted so much progressive legislation in the social sector and what we found was is difficult to describe unless you engage with the stakeholders, visit the campuses.”

Paul’s study of the campuses backs the report’s findings. Students narrate how security guards are instructed to separate girls and boys hanging out with each other. There are restrictions on clothes. College is considered a temporary pit-stop until the girl’s wedding is fixed.

Whether in the context of the interaction between sexes or individual choices, the focus seems to be on policing the girl. “Boys, oh no, never,” says the warden of a girls hostel when asked if boys are allowed to interact with girls. “We warn the girls when workers come to repair fans, lights etc. It is a ladies hostel, isn’t it!”

The Sound of Silence (2017). Image credit: Public Service Broadcasting Trust.
The Sound of Silence (2017). Image credit: Public Service Broadcasting Trust.

Paul eschews a voiceover, but her stance emerges loud and clear in the use of the song Periyare Periyare from the Malayalam film Bharya. The lyrics “Nagaram kanatha naanam maratha naadin peenaana nee (You are this region’s girl, one who hasn’t seen the city or lost her meekness)” seal Paul’s argument.

“One of the most important discoveries through the film has been that education and universities have become breeding grounds for conformity,” Paul said. “Students are not encouraged to think critically or be different. This has become the mandate of education. I’m surprised at how rampant the problem is and how we seem to be regressing rather than moving forward.”

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

When house hunting is as easy as shopping for groceries

The supermarket experience comes to a sector where you least expected it.

The woes of a house hunter in India are many. The dreary process starts with circling classifieds in newspapers and collecting shiny brochures. You flip through the proposed and ready designs that launch a hundred daydreams on the spot. So far so good. But, every house hunter would attest to the soul-crushing experience of checking out a disappointing property.

The kitchen of a 2BHK is carved from the corner of the hall, the 3BHK is a converted 2BHK, the building looks much older than in the pictures…. after months of reading the fine line, and between the lines, you feel like all the diagrams and highlights seem to blur into each other.

After much mental stress, if you do manage to zero in on a decent property, there’s a whole new world of knowledge to be navigated - home loans to be sifted through, taxes to be sorted and a finance degree to be earned for understanding it all.

Do you wish a real estate platform would address all your woes? Like a supermarket, where your every need (and want) is catered to? Imagine all your property choices nicely lined up and arranged with neat labels and offers. Imagine being able to compare all your choices side by side. Imagine viewing verfied listings and knowing what you see is what you get. Imagine having other buyers and experts guiding you along every step while you make one of the most important investments in your life. Imagine...

MagicBricks has made every Indian house hunters’ daydream of a simplified real estate supermarket a reality. Now you have more than a pile of brochures at your disposal as the online real estate marketplace brings you lakhs of choices to your fingertips. Instead of bookmarking pages, you can narrow down your choices by area, budget, house type etc. Just so you aren’t hit by FOMO, you can always add a suburb you’ve been eyeing or an extra bedroom to your filter. But there’s more to a house than just floor space. On MagicBricks, you can check for good schools in the vicinity, a park for evening walks or at least an assured easier commute. Save time and energy by vetting properties based on the specs, pictures and floor plans uploaded and have all your niggling concerns addressed on the users’ forum.

Shortlisted a property? Great! No need to descend down another spiral of anxiety. Get help from reliable experts on MagicBricks on matters of legalities, home loans, investment, property worth etc. You can even avail their astrology and Vastu services to ensure an auspicious start to life in your new home or office. With its entire gamut of offerings, MagicBricks has indeed brought the supermarket experience to real estate in India, as this fun video shows below.


Get started with a simplified experience of buying, renting and selling property on MagicBricks here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of MagicBricks and not by the Scroll editorial team.