By Aman Deep:
Panjab University is considered to be a center of excellence and learning, but when it comes to gender equality, its indiscriminate attitude towards female students comes to the fore in a very hideous manner. I am pursuing my Ph.D in the University, and in my 4 years’ experience as a resident in the University hostel, I have come across many incidents that seriously challenge all claims of “learning” and “equality”.
This Valentine’s Day, a notice was circulated in all the girls’ hostels dictating the wardens to keep the gates of their respective hostels closed from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm to “avoid any untoward incident”. The authorities shirk their responsibility by playing safe and making the students sign an undertaking to be responsible for any consequences. Unfortunately, the decision to hole the girls up in the hostels is not the first of its kind. The freedom and space of girls have always been invaded in the name of their “security” and “safety”. Recently, the gates were closed on the Valentine’s Day, but they have done the same during Holi. Earlier, in the name of safety, the girls were caged in the hostels from morning till late noon. Despite tremendous efforts from the students, the authorities reluctantly agreed to allow girls out only after they signed an undertaking stating that they themselves will be responsible for any mishappening.
The regulation and control on their lives starts immediately after the girls take accommodation in the hostels. The female residents are locked inside the hostels at 10 PM. It is ridiculous that there is a time limit to their movements even inside the hostel premises. Further, monetary fines are extorted from them over insignificant matters. The girls line up in queue everyday at 9 PM to mark their attendances as if they were prisoners, and the gatekeepers count their number. Second, it is mandatory for the female residents to make entries in a register whenever they go to their homes. If ever they forget to make entries, they are liable to pay fine. If any girl returns to hostel after 10:30 PM, she is forced to pay the fine there and then. Whenever the girls raise their voice against the time “limit”, the authorities try to justify their decision by saying that the girls are allowed six late entries in a month till 10:30 PM – ‘is it not sufficient?’ At night, the reading room of the library is open for studying, but not for girls! If they choose to go to library at night, they cannot return before 5 AM in the morning when the hostel gates open again. And the solution which authorities offer is to build a reading room inside the girls’ hostels, further segregating the girls from society. Even though girls constitute 70% of the total student population, their participation in campus activities is minimal. Their participation in even the Students Union elections, which is supposed to be a democratic platform for students to express their voice, is reduced just to add a glamour quotient to the election campaigns.
One must note that there is no such restriction on the boys. They can do whatever they wish to. The tradition of “gedi” near the girls’ hostels in the evening has almost become a ritual in Panjab University. The result is that serious issues like eve-teasing and sexual harassment are rampant in the campus and go on unchecked by the authorities. Ironically, more rules and restrictions are imposed on the female residents if they raise their voice against this.
Surprisingly, there is no check on not only the boys of the University, but also a huge number of boys from different colleges who roam around the girls’ hostels. The security guards deployed in every corner of the University also try to control and blame the girls. The University that deploys large number of security guards and police personnel for the girls’ safety in the daytime hardly seems to be bothered when the girls are “locked” inside the hostels in the night and the boys gather in front of the girls’ hostels, drunk, and play loud music. On the night of Valentine’s Day also, the authorities that had become votaries of “female safety” in the daytime and turned a deaf ear to the drunk boys who created a nuisance outside the girls’ hostels at midnight.
To add to the absurdity of the life of a girl student in the campus, the female residents have to pay fine if they lose the keys of their rooms and require the services of the guards to break the locks. They are made to write an application and pay a fine of twenty rupees in order to enter their rooms again.
Perhaps this is not sufficient enough! The callous and anti-woman stance of the University again came to fore when, instead of addressing the root causes behind the rising incidents of suicides in the campus, it decided to install grills in the balconies of girls’ hostels. What’s more weird is that grills have been installed only in girls’ hostels, although there have been cases of suicides in boys’ hostels as well. The attitude of the authorities was appalling and shameless. The decision was revoked only when the girls protested outside the Vice-Chancellor office and undertook a room-to-room signature campaign against this decision, and submitted a memorandum to the Dean Student Welfare and the Vice-Chancellor.
In light of such iniquity, the students feel hesitant to even speak out their minds in the face of such discrimination on campus. Most of the girls refuse to understand the situation objectively. They think that they are in the campus only to build their careers and do not wish to get into any ‘trouble’ while they are in the University. Perhaps their fear is also genuine to a certain extent because even the wardens threaten the girls of dire consequences if they don’t comply with the orders. There is no democratic body in the campus to address the grievances of the students. We are currently conducting a survey on gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the campus. The preliminary reports convey that female students feel the need of a a democratic women’s cell that can address the problems of the students.
As we look more closely and try to probe the reasons behind these bizarre and ridiculous rules that regulate the lives of the female residents in the University, it becomes quite evident that the authorities also perpetuate the patriarchal and repressive structures that have always suppressed and exploited women over the ages. There is a department of gender studies in the campus, but even that has failed to impart rational and creative spirit in the students. All this is not confined merely to the university. It is a reflection of the same gender bias existing in our society to which women have been subjected, of the patriarchy which systematically operates to oppress women. They face discrimination in every phase of life, be it of lower wages as compared to men, their unrecognized labor in the agricultural fields, or their sexual exploitation at the hands of the landlords, contractors, and employers. Women are treated as second grade citizens who have lesser rights as compared to men. The cases of rapes, acid attacks, dowry deaths, molestation, etc. have become very common. Not only this, feudal values with religion at its back also provide the ideological basis to suppress women.
Educational institutions have the responsibility to inculcate the ideas of equality in the students. It is, thus, unfortunate that a section of society is excluded from participating in any meaningful activity or decision making process only because the University is more concerned about providing “safety” and “security” rather than thinking about any meaningful methods to root out these problems. It may claim to be one of the best universities in the country, but Panjab University has failed most of its female students.