I need not emphasize the importance of one of the basic preconditions in any educational institution- absence of fear- to an academician of your stature. Yet I, a resident of Hall of Girl’s Residence (commonly known as girl’s hostel), am writing this letter to you anonymously only because of my fear.
In an ideal place of learning, I would fearlessly walk into to your office, where I would be welcomed, and could fearlessly put down my opposition to the existing, and the new hostel rules, which I believe are blatantly sexist. Then you could present your side of the story after which we could discuss, deliberate and debate over the matter. In an even more ideal situation, you would have consulted me and all the other girls of the hostel before deciding the rules that define our student life in Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI). But had this place of learning or even the world been any close to that ideal place, I would not be complaining about gender discrimination at all.
With this letter, I request you to consider the concerns of this resident from the girls’ hostel before you prepare your reply to the Delhi Commission of Women (DCW), which has issued a show cause notice to JMI over allegations of gender discrimination in the revised and existing hostel rules for girls. I am sure my position echoes the views of not just my fellow residents in JMI hostel but also that of hostel residents, women and men, of many other Universities throughout the country, who believe in equality and freedom as an issue of discriminatory hostel regulations for women is of course not limited only to JMI.
I am no expert at law but, as an aware citizen and a student of political science in school, I know enough that the hostel rules enforced by JMI violate my fundamental rights.
As made clear by the attendance and leave rules mentioned in the manual for girls’ and boys’ hostels the rules are extremely different for the two genders. The manual for the girls’ hostels states that “all girls shall get their attendance recorded in the evening during roll call by the caretaker” while there is no mention of a roll call in the Hall of Boy’s Residence Guidelines. Moreover, girls can only be granted “leaves and a maximum of two late night permission (till 10.00 pm in a month” (which has also been revoked this year) after seeking “prior permission of the warden, 24 hours in advance on a request duly recommended by their parents/local guardians, endorsing full address of the place to be visited and contact number”. On the other hand, the manual for boys says that boys staying in the hostel “should return in the hostel by 10.00 pm. Residents returning to the hostel after the specified time shall record their name in the hostel register kept with the security guard at the gate indicating reasons for their late coming”. It is important to note here that there is no roll call for the boys even after 10.00 pm and they do not need their parents/local guardian’s permission to come late or even take a leave from the hostel. It is compulsory for girls to have two local guardians living in National Capital Region who would be interviewed before admissions and need to submit an affidavit undertaking the responsibility of the applicant while it’s not mandatory for the boys to have a local guardian and they only need to produce an affidavit. Boys do not get interviewed for hostel seats like the girls, forget about their guardians being interviewed.
This difference in the hostel rules is a clear violation of my Right to Equality, bestowed to me in Article 15 of the Constitution, which prohibits the state from discriminating any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Making it mandatory for adult women to enter the hostel premises by 8.00 pm and making them get signed permission from their local guardians or parents 24 hours in advance, every time they decide to come late or take a leave, is a blatant violation of my Right to Freedom, which protects my life and personal liberty in Article 21 of the Constitution.
Amongst many other rights, Article 21 bestows every citizen with the Right to live with human dignity and believe me, Sir, there is no dignity in taking permissions from local guardians or parents every single time I want to run an errand. For a person like me who has classes everyday till 5 pm, three hours are barely sufficient to have a healthy personal, academic, social and love life and I see no human dignity in such a life.
Whereas the State is the custodian of the rights of its citizens, I find it disrespectful to our Constitution that a state-sponsored Central University, is violating the fundamental rights of many of its students. Unconstitutional discrimination on grounds of sex and withdrawing a student’s right to life and personal liberty is not something a place of learning should be associated with. And for a state-sponsored university to have done that for years does raise a question on how does the State (present or that of the yesteryears) want to educate its children and how sincerely it wants to promote the welfare of women and gender equality, and how progressive is its understanding of the same.
Secondly, according to various reports in the media, the university’s spokesperson and senior officials have cited security reasons for the different for boys and girls. So do we believe that we can only secure women by locking them up because the capital city is unsafe for them? It’s like saying, “since my family has a history of lung cancer and I might be vulnerable too, let me not throw away this cigarette, but just get rid of one of my lungs or rather both.” Even if this bizarre argument stands valid for a single moment, should we turn a blind eye to the latest official statistics that has found that violence against women such as rape and molestation were committed by people known to the victims such as relatives, neighbors and employers in 90 percent of the cases. Sir, if you are scared for the safety of your girl students, you should not be worried about letting them stay outside hostel and letting them roam around the roads. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), it is their home and workplace, in this case the university campus, that you should be thinking about. And if you think asking the girls to be inside by 8 pm is for their “safety”, let me tell you these crimes and violations that you want to save us from also happen before 8 pm, sometimes early in the morning, sometimes even in a university classroom. Trust me on this, I am a woman.
Yes, I understand that the city is unsafe. But as a young adult, atleast let me decide how I want to live, study, move, work and love in this city. Every day I am constantly making my own decisions about what to wear, where to go, where to walk, what transport to take, whom to meet. Sometimes I feel brave, sometimes I police myself. But let this decision be mine. Let me learn.
This brings me to another question, don’t you want “safety” for the boys staying in the hostel? I am hoping you are well aware of the latest NCRB report which suggests that men outnumber women in all categories of unnatural deaths, except in the case of fire, including road accidents and murders and, Delhi is famous for both.
Why the concern of “safety” is even more discriminatory is because while applying for the hostels you made our parents sign an affidavit where they need to agree that the “hostel/University authorities shall have no liability towards my ward when she is outside the hostel premises.” Even the disclaimer at the beginning of the Hostel manual makes the same declaration. Then why such discriminatory rules in the name of “safety” and in the name of our “own best interests”? Why?
And if you still think that such rules are in the girl’s or in this case in my interest then please let me know if you think the Bharat Ratna awardee Aruna Asaf Ali, after whom we have a hostel named in JMI, could become so had she been told “fight for freedom only till 8 pm”. Had Sonia Gandhi become Sonia Gandhi, after whom we have an upcoming hostel named, if she had to take written permission from her parents every time she came home after 8 pm or did not come home at all? I am not saying I am or want to be the next Sonia Gandhi or the next Abadi Bano Beghum but whatever I would be and whatever I want to become and achieve, these hostel rules are not helping, they are rather a big deterrent to my growth.
And Sir, if you are concerned that my parents would oppose you if you do decide to abolish the discriminatory, sexist and oppressive rules you need not fall weak, I will be there for you. My parents do not own me. And whenever they have tried to impose any rules which are no different from the one we have in the hostel, I have resented. Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t but whenever I had to accept their rules I did so under protest. When a 18 year old is allowed to cast a vote and hence decide the future of her country, she should have the right to decide when to come back home and when to come back to the hostel, where her sole purpose of staying is to grow.
I know Jamia Millia Islamia is not the only university to have such gender-biased rules, but that is not reason enough to still not do away with them.
Do away with the 8pm deadline. Do away with getting permissions from local guardians. Do away with sexism on campus. Do away with gender inequality.
Now you may say that only a few hostel girls find the hostel rules regressive, and you may or may not be right. There might be a few girls demanding a change, there might be many. But in spirit of democracy, we do hope that you will pay heed to our concerns.
In the end, I want to reiterate that this letter should not be seen as an ‘attack‘ on Jamia Milia Islamia, especially since we are often targeted because of our status as a ‘minority‘ institution. Discriminatory hostel regulations on women exist in colleges and universities across the country. I would like to believe that Jamia Milia Islamia, in which I have also learnt and grown tremendously, has the potential to lead the way in abolishing such restrictive norms.
Do listen to me. Do listen to us, sir.
In the hope that we are able to meet face-to-face someday,
A Jamia Girls’ Hostel Resident.
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