By Shivani Chimnani:
“I never assumed that because I was a woman that anything was off limits to me.”
On 16th August 2015, ‘Malhar’ one of Mumbai’s finest and most distinguished inter-collegiate fest was held at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. The female students of St Xavier’s college, who were volunteers for the fest, were prohibited from wearing shorts. The reason cited by the principal was ‘security concerns’ (since Chauvinist Daily suggests that women wearing short clothes are the primary cause of crimes against women). This policy created large scale media uproar and received wide criticism from students as well as non-students. Such a measure isn’t first of its kind and sadly won’t be the last. When I read about this instance, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. I was furious for not being furious, I ought to be livid, why wasn’t I? It was because such discrimination was becoming insidious, creeping into our daily customs, becoming a standard part of daily life, it seemed normal compared to the other worse things happening. But a jolt of cognizance soon swept in, of course it would. The Indian society manages to retain its foremost position in the race down ‘Who’s the most regressive’ road.
It is immensely saddening when Mumbai Colleges which epitomize progress and development undertake such archaic policies. If urban colleges undertake such an approach, what are other institutions to emulate? The practice of girls not being able to wear shorts is actually widespread among a number of Bombay colleges. However, if adequate body fabric was the solution to women’s safety, then shouldn’t women in Kashmir be the safest? But this isn’t the case, is it? Commanding women to dress in a certain manner is not only downright unfair but also illogical. Next thing we know, we will be mandated to wear space suits for ‘safety’. Colleges are meant to be the forum of equality and growth, but when such discriminatory policies are carried out, it furthers the problem for women, not minimizes it. Young students witness this and some may even get influenced by it and practice the same in life, and restart the vicious circle of patriarchy. Colleges are telling young students that it’s okay to tell a woman to dress how we think she should. What could be the alternative? Maybe transform the environment to make it a safe haven for her, instead of asking her to calibrate her attire.
Firstly, it is imperative to understand that we cannot possibly ask a woman how to dress, what to do, where to go, so on and so forth. It defies the basic idea of gender equality. If we ask women to dress in a certain manner, we are blatantly implying that it is her body which is causing men to sin, pass lewd remarks or give the endless lascivious stares, but we all know that’s not the case. Secondly, if there exists a dress code, it ought to be gender neutral instead of female centric. This way students will know that what isn’t allowed, is impermissible for all, not for some. Gender neutral policies must be implemented at the grassroots level, and educational institutions play an integral role in formulating opinion. Thirdly, if the issue of safety is to be thoroughly addressed, laws have to be brought in place. Colleges must have an austere sexual harassment policy, including a women’s redressal cell where such complaints can be lodged. After deliberation, if the case is found to be veracious, strict action must be taken against the perpetrator. A women’s development cell does exist in a majority of colleges, but its effectiveness is not largely known. Lastly, if there exists a problem, talk about it. A multitude of sexual harassment cases go unheard because we have accepted it as something natural and routine and should be ignored. We have to understand that it is a grave issue, and has to be brought out in the open. One must talk to their peers or teachers about sexual harassment, and find ways to tackle the same. In fact, colleges could conduct regular meetings to discuss such issues. The teachers should be approachable enough to go and talk to when something of this sort occurs.
Patriarchy is embedded in the world at large, but the key is to destroy it, not further it. We cannot possibly tell a woman that because she’s a woman some things are off limits to her. We can’t tell her in order to be safe, she has to let go of her freedom.
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