By Sakshi Jain:
The model of Indian education has evolved over the last few decades with the introduction of a wide array of subjects enhancing the youth’s knowledge spectrum. However, the most sensitive issue of gender and sexuality has always escaped its attention. This issue has always been considered to be a myth and too ignominious to be talked about in our society. One of the reasons why insensitive activities pertaining to gender and sexuality are on the rise is because our education system fails to recognize these sensitive issues. They have been considered a blot to our culture and have been the reason for upholding the deeply patriarchal structure in our society, evident through our Culture Minister’s statement – “Night outs by girls is against Indian culture”.
In light of this scenario, Gender Studies Group of Delhi University (an independent, non-funded, University-wide student group committed to reading, writing and thinking about gender) have made concerted efforts to reduce this gap in knowledge and initiate measures to alleviate the problems associated with this gap. The members of the Group recently launched four FAQ booklets on the topics – The Body, Sexual Minorities, Sexual Harassment as well as Accommodation in and around the University.
The booklets have been launched targeting college students who bear the brunt of being oblivious to such issues. The booklet on Hostel Accommodation, for instance, talks about the issue of restrictive rules and regulations for students, especially women. The booklets aim to apprise and caution students about the possible kinds of harassment and abuse that can happen in the hostels and the other places of shelter. Additionally, they provide information to students about ways to organise collective protests against moral policing, restrictive gender biased rules for students as well as any form of harassment in the hostels. Aapurv Jain of the Gender Studies Group says, “Through these booklets, we wish to make an attempt to dispel myths, dissolve ignorance and create a culture in which sexual violence and exploitation have zero tolerance and to encourage a healthy culture regarding sexuality.”
Through the launch of these booklets, they also plan to inform the students about ways of being part of this curriculum and acquaint them about their rights and prevalent social conditions in the University pertaining to the specific issue of sexual harassment policy. They emphasise on the need to open egalitarian spaces in educational institutions, and for accurate sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) related information for young people so that they can easily navigate gender and sexuality issues.
Pinjra Tod, a recent campaign launched by the student activists from different colleges and universities against sexist rules in women’s hostels, particularly those that disallow women from staying out late will involve the use of these booklets to disseminate the idea of gender and sexuality sensitization.
A workshop on gender and sexuality was organised by the group wherein a humorous anecdote was used a tool for shedding light upon the sensitive issue of gender and sexuality. A short film by “Must Bol” that showed how society demands strict adherence to hyper-masculine aesthetics for men and alternate masculinities are often ridiculed and sidelined was also screened for this purpose. Other ways of promoting the booklets included games for college students wherein they were introduced to the problem of societal stereotypes regarding gender and sexuality, and interactive sessions. The booklets, in order to expand their reach, come at nominal prices and have comprehensive descriptions.
The initiative by the Gender Studies Group is a good start to counter the existing system of educational institutions that operate on patriarchal terms. However, whether this will reach the level of implementation is questionable considering the deeply entrenched patriarchal norms in our society that gives the academic spaces the authority to impose restrictive regulations for women students by using the diatribe of safety and regulation as most women colleges in Delhi University do impose restrictions on mobility of hostellers in the name of security and safety.
A recent example in the University that sheds light on the feasibility of implementation of such initiatives is the allegation of two girls associated with the Pinjra Tod campaign who were threatened by a member of students’ political outfit ABVP with sexual harassment for putting up posters on top of those of ABVP on the ‘Wall of Democracy’ at North Campus, Delhi University. Their posters were also ripped off. Such instances shake the foundation of setting in new waves of change pertaining to sensitivity towards gender and sexuality issues.