By Sakshi Jain:
I was as jittery as any other newcomer on my first day of college at Lady Shri Ram College for women, the sight of the college campus was somewhat different. From the confidence in the eyes to the unflinching standpoint of every woman on campus, it seemed like a new found female utopia. Words like women empowerment, liberation, change makers, feminism, patriarchy, and misogyny, fell upon my ears at regular intervals. As I got familiarized with these definitions, a sense of empowerment and self-reliance dawned upon me. The ideal world of a woman didn’t seem to be a pipe dream anymore. While an atmosphere like this is empowering for students in most girls’ colleges, there is one area where the idealism may seem to be falling short i.e. the limitation witnessed by the hostellers of women’s colleges, who bear the brunt of stringent hostel restrictions levied on them, which seem ironical to feminist teachings and milieu of the college.
Restrictions and rebels
Most women’s colleges in Delhi University have a curfew time of 7.30 pm with limited provisions (4 days in a month) of late nights and night outs. Minutes of delay could incur serious consequences of ringing up the parents of hostel residents and inviting wrath for the daughters. What seems saddening to me is the association of women’s character with such incidents. Much often, hostel wardens cast aspersions on students which seem unjustified. “In the name of security, they tend to infantilize adult women capable of making their own choices”, said one of my friends at LSR. Even the petty four night outs come with a whole set of complications. Students can only take night outs to stay with their local guardian and the permission process involves getting a letter signed by the local guardian. So, what if it’s your friend’s birthday tonight? Well, virtual participation is the only solace! Or else, brace yourself to travel all day to your guardian’s place to get the slip signed. And before you plan, don’t forget to estimate the unlikelihood of your local guardian supporting your cause because living in an ideal world is still a pipedream.
When I asked a male professor at LSR what his thoughts are on these hostel restrictions from the point of view of ‘safety’, he replied, “The inefficacy of the Government, the apathy of the State and above all a deep seated pervasive power politics existing in our society has led to a decline in safety. I think it is an incredible violence upon women to be treated differently and to be advised not to venture out at nights when the government should be keeping us safe and as adults we all know how to avoid danger”.
In fact, being a Journalism student at LSR, I myself chose not to stay in hostel as it would obstruct my access to a plethora of opportunities outside, that my course demands which I’d be unable to fulfill living under the restrictions. Making tough choices living under hostel requirements is a plight that many others undergo, as my friend, a female hostel resident from North Campus of DU expressed “I had to choose between watching my favourite play and attending a talk by the famous journalist P. Sainath since my monthly quota of night outs was going to end.”
The restrictions do not end with the exposure inhibitions. It extends to a level where women while going to the hostel mess are required to cover their legs because of the male presence there, said a hosteller in LSR. This really makes one wonder about the freedom of choice we learn about in college. Aren’t our rights being curbed against the perpetual and pervasive fear of the male gaze? This rule is in fact also unfair to men, since it puts all of them in neat categories of letches and potential rapists as Kavita, a second year student of Sociology Department at LSR points out.
It seems then that colleges like these only offer a peep into an ideal world, falling short of going all the way. College going women in India can vote to change a government, but cannot change the rules that restrict their liberties in educational institutions, added a student I spoke to.
The other side
Most hostellers at LSR, who concur with the idea of time regulation, provide a different angle of looking at this. They feel that by imposing such restrictions, the authorities aren’t upholding the established gender bias in our society. The idea of such restrictions is based on the lines of responsibility of the college towards the safety of its residents and their accountability to the parents of hostellers, said a hosteller in LSR. The practice of covering legs before entering the hostel mess can also be seen through the lens of precaution where the college levies this restriction to avoid unexpected circumstances of harm to its residents.
Arundhati, a female hosteller in the campus of Miranda interestingly adds, “The rules to be followed are for our own safety, the change must come in but it can’t be revolutionary. It has to be gradual for it involves change in ideology.”
What’s right and what’s wrong?
The debate whether such hostel restrictions in women’s colleges are ironical to the teachings of the colleges is one that is caught between issues of ‘safety’ and ‘gender bias’.
Personally, I feel none of the approaches can be designated to be completely right or wrong. From the perspective of an individual it is not wrong to feel deprived of the right to make one’s own choices. However, mixing and balancing this approach with the accountability that the hostel authority holds for our safety leads us to arrive at a conforming approach. Feminism as I see, might not always be about rebellion or to see everything through the lens of gender bias, but is more about analysing the contemporary situation and initiating smaller steps towards a change. Identifying hostel restrictions in women’s colleges as a deviation from feminist ideologies seems to then hinge on how each of us define feminism. So, this leads me to ask my readers, do you think hostel restrictions in women’s colleges are anti-feminist?
Leave a comment below or tweet to me @sakshijain29 with your thoughts.
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