By Shambhavi Saxena:
On the morning of 9th September, Jamia Milia Islamia students woke up to find their campus plastered with 300 posters boldly declaring “Pinjra Tod”. These two Hindi words that mean “break the cage” have been flowering up all over college campuses and nearby paying guesthouses, because women students are tired of having to live like caged birds.
Towards the end of last year, St Stephen’s graduate Leila Gautham’s account of the regressive rules governing women’s hostels in Delhi University sparked off an inter-college discussion of the ways in which even esteemed institutions were infantilizing and immobilizing adult females. In June, Jamia Milia Islamia’s Provost issued a bizarre and vaguely threatening circular prohibiting girls from going out at night. Recently, an anonymous student from Lady Shri Ram revealed the gulf between her college’s feminist politics and its hostel regulations. And the women have had enough.
The restrictions on the number of nights a student may spend outside campus, the long winded process of obtaining permission, the absurd curfews being imposed on grown citizens – this and much more has culminated into a growing guerrilla campaign across universities in the national capital.
The Pinjra Tod movement, comprised of women from colleges in Delhi University, Jamia Milia Islamia, Ambedkar Univeristy, National Law University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, grew out of a simple Facebook page, where female hostel and PG residents began sharing their bitter experiences with guards, wardens, principles, landlords and the like. What is clear from all these stories is the need for an all-out rejection of these restrictive rules and the patriarchal protectionism they are built on.
The most unfortunate immediate outcome of the escalation (or at least increased reportage) of crimes against women has been the immediate curtailing of women’s mobility. When the gang-rapes and molestations that have been happening under our nose for centuries finally come to our notice over dinner and the nine o’clock news, more often than not it is closely followed by well-meaning but constricting directives. Statements like “Be home before dark,” “Don’t use public transport alone,” “Have a trusted male companion that your family approves of,” “Don’t wear shorts,” can be an everyday part of life for most women. But the intensity at which they become repeated in the aftermath of unfortunate incidents isn’t as much about protection as it is about prohibition.
Attached to these statements are moral judgements, which gives people (by which I mean agents of the patriarchy) ability to vilify women who exercise their basic fundamental rights of movement, speech and the right to wear what they choose.
Already Pinjra Tod’s change.org petition (which best explains the campaign’s mission) is gaining signatures online and on ground. These women have planned guerrilla activities in the wee hours of the morning, spray painting messages of resistance on streets and pavements on campus. Functioning mostly through word-of-mouth and social media, the group has been networking for a month now, and will be mobilizing student support at a Jan Sunwai planned for the 10th of October 2015.
For far too long women’s personal freedoms have been curtailed in the name of safety – safety that is conflated with our ‘honour’, our sexual availability, and our status as possessions, not people. These ideas become institutionalized, and therefore, harder to challenge, because what it comes down to is this – do you stand up for your rights, or do you bow your head, comply and hope for minimal damage? To the women of Pinjra Tod, this is an absolute no-brainer. Our rights are non-negotiable and if educational institutions, landlords, and even parents demand unquestioning obedience, they’ve got another thing coming.