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Sexism In IIT Roorkee: My Observations As A Student Of This ‘Prestigious’ College

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By Abhishek Jha:

There is an imminent danger, tactfully gilded over with a sense of security and calm, which is not bad fortune but bad history. In speaking of the place from where I broadcast this warning- and also from where I belong- I am to be guided by a seven point rubric of core values from which I quote the following:

‘Respect and tolerance for the views of every individual’
‘Attention to issues of national relevance as well as of global concern’
‘An unfettered spirit of learning, exploration, rationality and enterprise’
‘Sensitivity to social responsibilities’

You will find the above enlisted on the website of IIT Roorkee. It’s a crying shame that while fellow students across the country clamour in support of the horrific molestation at Jadavpur University, the community here does not stir. Maybe they are doing their bit towards helping the cause, and indeed, while I reflect on my ‘crying shame’, I realise that this community is not apathetic in general; in fact, only recently people came forward with great enthusiasm to help the flood victims in J & K. There are examinations in progress, too. Why then did I raise an accusatory finger in the first place?

IIT Roorkee

It is perhaps because of an iota of jealousy. I know that if, heaven forbid, such tragedy were to fall on this campus, the response won’t be even a tiny fraction of what we are seeing at Jadavpur. A few weeks ago when I was going out of the campus, the guards warned us that the neighbourhood isn’t safe and that since we ‘were moving out of campus after 8 PM, they won’t be there to help if a girl comes crying to them for help’ (a couple of girls happened to be in the group going out for dinner). He then told us that we could go out at our own risk. This place where we were going is an old haunt with which we are well acquainted and do know what dangers lurk outside, and hence, we decided that we will go out anyway. Later that evening I learnt that a few days ago a girl had indeed ‘come crying for help at the gates’, trying to escape eve-teasers/molesters – the story isn’t even known to people. It is perhaps this that found me making a spirited accusation that leads to its examination.

It is time that I clarify that I am not condemning the student community, not entirely that is, but the harrowing state of affairs in my institute. They are verily the victims of the situation. You only have to have a brush with the administrative machinery here to learn that. As a complete analysis of its deplorable ways is too monumental a task to be individually taken, I analyse and denounce only a single facet of it here.

The institute prohibits female students from moving out of their hostels after 10 PM. A cursory glance at this fact might seem to be a precautionary measure, given the rate at which crimes are being committed against women in this country. However, one must take note that no such restriction is in place for boys who may enjoy the beautiful campus, which is secured by boundary walls, gates, CCTV cameras, and guards at any time of the day or night. Let me not embarrass myself by pointing out the all too evident disparity in the freedoms offered to different sections (if they are at all different) of students in the campus. However, let us not keep the evidence aside either. The reason cited – the safety of the said section – is risible. The influx on the gates at night is null compared to what it is during the day. The guards can do more thorough identity checks at night. The ‘neighbourhood’ can be with more certainty and effectiveness kept out of the campus at night. And if the institute fears the inmates of the institute themselves, they can commit crimes even during the day. The campus is spread over 356 acres and not all of it is bustling with activity throughout the day. Surprisingly, the institute raises the time limit to 11 PM during campus festivals when not only people from different colleges, but a huge crowd of general public throngs the campus.

As we look more closely and find all the cited reasons preposterous, it appears more and more likely that there are other forces at play. The administration is not the hapless benefactor trying its best to work in loco parentis. It is the perpetrator of a crime that has been perpetuated by patriarchal repressive structures over the ages that neither respects and tolerates the views of every individual, nor pays attention to issues of national or global relevance, festering any spirit of rationality or enterprise and responds with rhetorical and prejudiced arguments, leading to an exhausted hopelessness that can only make one insensitive to social responsibilities.

True, there are irresponsible, criminal citizens in this country. But the state ensures, or it at least says that it does, that we exercise our freedom without worrying for our safety. It is the institute’s prerogative that it allow the freedom to be exercised equally by people who it believes are on the same hierarchical plane. By excluding a section from that exercise, it allows the irrational belief in a difference to insidiously take root in young minds. It is important to remember that these people are studying at an institute declared to be ‘of national importance’ by ‘passing a bill in the parliament’. They take up jobs at positions of power and importance at the highest levels in the country. If a section developed the slightest belief in an inherent inferiority and weakness or superiority and strength, it could possible wreak havoc for generations in the country and will definitely inculcate regressive ideas.

Moreover, the administration never shies away from blaming and harassing the victims. Friends and acquaintances repeatedly recount with disgust the uncouth remarks that are made by the guard at their hostel if they arrive so much as five minutes past the deadline. I am afraid of reporting any matter that comes to my notice to the authorities, as I have had my experience with it; which was so much like an inquisition that I wished I had kept the matter to myself. The authorities, thus, that claim to have the restrictions in place for ‘our own good’ seem to never end up doing any good. It is not even just a matter of being able to roam around the campus in moonlight, which is what probably the authorities will derisively state as our desire. Laboratories, campus groups, and study rooms often continue to work beyond 10 in the night, as the day is packed until 6 by classes after which one has about two hours to use the sports facility or shop for essentials. Girls often feel left out of campus groups due to that and are indeed alienated.

In the light of such iniquity, it appears unimaginable that the student community remains silent. The reason for it is rather a paradox of sorts. A casual chat with any student will reveal that most students consider themselves to be grateful to have made it to ‘an institute of national importance’ and do not wish to get in trouble while they are here. The authorities have for decades wielded grades like a weapon against any sign of dissent or disturbance. Requests through students’ council, individual students, or groups of them is met year after year with the same hackneyed rhetoric of safety. Thus the stalemate ensures that the institute continues to lumber on as the symbol of tradition that it proudly declares itself to be, defying rational argument and thought at every step. Change is possible only if the students realise that this is not just an uncomfortable seat that they have to hold for a few years before being released to freedom. This micro-community is a reflection of the country in most respects. And, therefore, probably what happens here will only be writ large when we move out.

Also read: Confessions Of An IITian: What I Learned, And Didn’t, In My 4 Years Of College

The ‘Honour’ That ‘Needs’ Protection: Why Do College Campuses Refuse To See Women As Adults?

My College Discriminates Against Girls, And We Are Not Allowed To Have A Problem With It

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  1. Babar

    It is boys who face discrimination in schools and colleges, not girls. The environment in most schools and colleges is female dominated, and apart from punishing male students more severely, they also discriminate in educational matters, shame male students, are biased against boys, and fail them.

    Here are real issues that need addressing:

    Feminism Shames Young Male Students

    Elementary School Bias Against Boys Sets Them Up For Failure

    Eliminating Feminist Teacher Bias Erases Boys’ Falling Grades

    Why Boys Are Now The True Victims Of Discrimination

    Boys Being Failed By Our Schools

    1. Aditya Sanyal

      Love reading your posts Babur. they are like a breadth of fresh air in this misandric, hypocritic portal.
      Its all paid media.

      Not at all ” Youth Ki Awaz”

  2. Ria

    I had a very bad experience at IIT Roorkee when I was there as a delegate for a National conference conducted by CBRI. My train from Roorkee was at 2am in the month of November, and the organizing authorities had conveniently forgotten to arrange means of conveyance for me (they were supposed to provide pick up and drop off facility to all delegates.), inspite of them knowing full well that I was travelling alone. When I brought the matter the matter to their notice, I was asked if I could leave at 10pm with other delegates. I had told them that it would be very unsafe for me to wait at the station alone at night, but they insisted. Fortunately I had a cousin staying there, and I asked him to arrange for some alternative conveyance. This created such an uproar among the senior professors who made me sign a no liability application because I was going to the station on my own. Their logic was that as long as I was in their guest house, I was their responsibility. They were not ready to understand how difficult and unsafe and scary it would be for a single woman to wait at a railway station at night. When finally my cousin came to get me, I heard such lewd comments questioning my character by some very senior academicians, that I vowed never to return to this institute ever again for any reason whatsoever.

    1. Ativ Mohan

      Well, what else do you expect. It’s IIT Roorkee, the last bastion of male chauvinism.

  3. Rajat

    The argument stands firm. But the solution does not. It is not for nothing that such patriarchal system continues to persist. Directly accusing them of being “uncouth” and “harassing the victims” is by most means inappropriat . A better counter argument needs to be established on this subject.

    1. Common Man

      Don’t talk to feminists and liberals about reason or logic.

      Muh.. degeneracy..

  4. Monistaf

    All the girls at IIT Roorkee are legally adults. If they can take responsibility for their own safety like adult women everywhere else in the country, there should be no restrictions what so ever. However, we all know the truth. If a crime is committed against a girl, it is always the fault of the authorities for not doing enough to protect her. Why do we want to infantilize girls? Let them be free and live with the consequences of their own decisions and the day everyone stops blaming the authorities for anything and everything that happens to them, I see no reason for any restrictions. Equal responsibility, equal rules. I am sure that there are plenty of adult men at Roorkee that are victims of crimes too, but no one blames anyone else but the men themselves. The day, we can apply the same standard to women, is the day they can be equally liberated across college campuses in India.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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