By Abhishek Jha:
My institute is blatantly sexist in at least one way. The girls on campus are compulsorily required to return to their hostels by 11 PM. This deadline was earlier 10 PM and was extended only after the Student Affairs Council – an elected students’ body, made irrefutable arguments against any such curfew earlier this year.
As the curfew, albeit rescheduled, still exists, it made sense to me when I saw that a walk for gender equality was being organised. However, I became sceptical when I saw that a notice had been issued requiring all students enrolled in N.C.C. to be necessarily present as their attendance would count towards their grades. Another aspect that kept me away from the walk was its association with Farhan Akthar’s MARD campaign. I will exclude its specific criticism here because the walk itself manifested the problems with that particular campaign as well.
After the walk was over, I came to know of a few other things which were wrong with it and I discuss them here.
What were Members of Administration doing in the Walk?
What I find scarier than an institute clamping down on campaigns against sexism is an institute that appropriates it to continue practising sexism. They are the people who have power to ensure that gender equality exists on campus. And for 150 glorious years, they have kept girls locked up in their hostels. By participating in such walks, they allow the false notion to take root among students that they work towards gender equality. This adversely affects campaigns against sexism; a common student will come to excuse the institute for doing its bit. I even have had a practical experience with this. When we tried to get a public apology from a professor for making sexist remarks in class, a majority of students who refused to support us made the argument that the professor was benevolent and, therefore, should be excused.
This benevolence is to be rejected precisely because it stands as a major obstacle in the form of pretence in the fight against sexism. This is true of struggles against oppression in general. One sees that universities – including my own, are very eager on organising women empowerment workshops, to celebrate papers published on the same, or on organising walks. Do not misunderstand me. All these can be done by those oppressed to demonstrate, to mobilise, to understand their struggle, and so on. But when the institute administration does it, it is nothing more than facade building to save them from the progress of such struggles, for reasons I just discussed. Do all this and whatever you want as long as you do not change anything, they seem to say.
The Placard at the Walk
“Men are the ones who are given strength by God to protect women. So if you hurt a woman, you are not a man“, said a placard at the walk. That such statements have popular appeal can be guessed by the amount of troll comments received by those criticising Shenaz Treasurywala’s open letter. It appeals to the masses because it fits the bill of masculinity, panders to the age old custom of men protecting women. But that is exactly how patriarchy functions. It enforces the idea that woman can do anything only as long as a man is there to protect her, thereby robbing her of her agency and freedom. The more fashionable of those patriarchs make such placards in walks for equality: “women can do everything as long as a man is there to protect her“. When this gets to its horrifying extreme conclusion, men are executing women because her “honour” could not be “protected” when she married outside her caste or religion. Those who fight against patriarchy, therefore, should reject these ideas coming to us, disguised in such walks for equality.
The students enrolled in N.C.C. being made to compulsorily attend this so called “solidarity” campaign was both comical and offensive at the same time. Comical – because apparently whoever made this decision seems to have no idea about solidarity, is part of the administration, and has already misguided those present at the walk about how solidarity campaigns work. Comical – only because it’s a tragic extreme. Instead of talking to people, making people understand what patriarchy is and how it works, they were immediately chained in an order of command which they could not disobey because of grades- that most invoked of all Gods.
But I also find this rather offensive (no, I am not one of those who will ban bad people from having their little circus and exposing themselves). What are they offering women here? Pity? Sympathy? This is also a problematic thing, for it allows you to have a moment of emotional excess after which you think you have done your duty and need not do any more. But you having your little penitential moment, doing your sympathy bit will not give women their rights until you also work for their rights.
Unfortunately for us, those members of administration that participated in the walk seem to think that sexism exists somewhere outside, in some dark corner of the world; and by walking, they will spread light. On returning to their leather chairs and air-conditioned rooms, with regular strokes of their pens, they will continue to push women inside their hostels when the clock strikes eleven.