Women’s Colleges In India – Spaces Where ‘Voices Are Silenced And Snatched Away’

Posted on October 13, 2015 in Politics, Society

By Nikita Arora:

While reading the prospectus of my college, Government College for Girls, Patiala, I came across a point under hostel rules which said, ‘Those who participate in any strike, directly or indirectly, can be expelled from the hostel’, which simply reminded me of a Hitler-like fascist regime where opposition is suppressed severely. Educational campuses, exclusively girls’ educational campuses, have these kind of rules for day scholars as well as hostel residents. Although it is a recognized and acknowledged fact that our educational institutions have gender-discriminatory practices, ranging from the timings of hostels to research facilities, I still feel that this particular rule is the most dangerous and derogatory one.

Reunion en el Instituto Superior Politécnico José Antonio Echeverria. CUJAE. del VII Congreso de la FEU. Fecha:16 de Noviembre de 2006 Foto: Roberto Suarez
Image source: Google+

Schools, colleges and universities which were set up to promote the agenda of women empowerment in an age when women were restrained from receiving an education, following the revolutionary beginning of Savitribai Phule’s school, today have the most suppressive and male-chauvinist rules and regulations, under the name of ‘exclusivity’. Women’s institutions also follow the Constitution in a unique manner; they pose their institutions as a detached island, meant for making women ‘wise’, ‘excellent’ in all fields. However, this wisdom and excellence is consciously interpreted in a manner suitable to the authority and government. If you are a student in a women’s institution, you have to maintain the ‘reputation’ of the institution, by not making  boyfriends, not going out too often, no night-outs, and of course no ‘union-baazi’, a name used by the authority as an insult towards student politics. All ‘isms’, and mechanisms which are ‘taught’ in closed classrooms seem bogus in front of the atmosphere provided to female students.

Recently, the UGC has recommended certain guidelines for higher educational institutions, under the name UGC Guidelines on Safety of Students off and on Campuses of Higher Educational Institutions (HEI), whose sixth point reads, ‘Setting up a university police station within the premises of HEIs, wherever feasible, can go a long way in instilling a sense of security amongst students and scare amongst nuisance makers and petty criminals.’ What is interesting is the category of students who will be and are named as ‘nuisance-makers’ by the authority. Subramaniam Swamy, member of the BJP commented on the students of JNU, a campus known for its politicisation, as an institution of ‘Naxalites’, which is the exact manifestation of the point highlighted by UGC, purpose being the depoliticisation of campuses. In an atmosphere where the participation of women in public spaces, meetings, organizations is next to minimum, such guidelines will push women inside the four walls of hostels and homes, away from academic as well as political activities. The implications of these guidelines, when implemented in colleges like the one stated will increase the intensity of gender discriminatory rules, such as women’s reluctance to participate in protests in front of police officials. Also, the voices of dissent will be crushed and an atmosphere of emergency will be created, where women will be sidelined to the category of weak and silent students.

The processes through which women are socialized to accept themselves as weak and dependent are varied across the atmosphere of the locality they live in, to the school, to the college, to the workplaces, with the foundational work done by school education. Since the development of a professional education, it remains as one of the most influencing factors in deciding the consciousness and thought processes of the individual. Education is a process of theorizing knowledge which human society has acquired, and of setting up new challenges for the next generation. But, the academic syllabus which was supposed to enlighten students through it, is actually preaching the idealistic and metaphysical notions about society, including subjugating women as a second sex; it starts from the nursery rhymes and continues till the death of a woman, in one or the other from.

Let us take an example to support the case. I once read a poem as a child, titled, ‘A Man and A Maid’, in which a man asks a maid to marry her, but she refuses because he does not have sufficient resources and money to start a family with her. She comments, ‘Should I be your little bride, pray what must we have for to eat, eat, eat? Will the flame you’re so rich in, light a fire in the kitchen?’. The poem speaks in a highly sexist tone where the maid is represented as the one dependent on the man for their survival, and this is what children read when they are in school, a complete ignorance of the value domestic work and the role women have played in the evolution of society. The next case is of a lesson, which students are taught in B.A I Semester, Punjabi University, Patiala and its affiliated colleges, named, ‘The Nose-Jewel’ by T. Rajagopalchari. The introduction of the chapter speaks in a threatening and threatened tone, simultaneously, commenting that the chapter is likely to be disliked by ‘present-day feminists’. The fable deals with a pair of sparrows who take shelter in a home where a couple lives. One fine day, the male sparrow finds a diamond nose-jewel lying on the floor and brings it to his wife, but she says that it is of no use to her, to which the male sparrow discards it. The lady of the house sees it and wears it. Her husband comes home and asks her from where she had gotten it, and asks her to report it to the police. She refuses and in a few days she falls ill. On seeing this, the male sparrow remarks that she fell ill because she did not obey her husband, and the female sparrow smiles and agrees. This misogynist lesson instils in the mind of women the belief that they are the ones to be protected and saved from the ‘monsters’, and can be safe and happy only if they listen and obey their male counterparts.

In such times as these, when voices of women are silenced and the space where such voices can be heard are snatched from them, such as democratic educational campuses, it is very important that women start resisting such attempts and put up a fight to reclaim all spaces of society, in texts prescribed by the authorities as well as in campuses. A campaign named ‘Pinjra Tod: Break the cages’ has been started in Delhi and other parts of India, questioning the locks of hostels which restrict the movement of women.

Last month, a school going girl of 8 years was gang-raped in a town near Amritsar, Punjab, and now she does not want to go to school because everyone looks down on her, and her mother is worried about her marriage! We must fight to such patriarchal mindsets and their basis which seize the childhood, teenage years and youth from women; challenge the sexist academic and material atmosphere; altogether giving a call for women’s freedom and equality in educational campuses and society, at large. The communal attempts that are being hurled up in education, such as teaching the Bhagwad Gita in classes, changing the third language option to Sanskrit, recruiting Gajendra Chauhan as the head of FTII, naming Kanya Maha Vidyalayas as a Heritage site, de-scientifying science etc., must be met with consistent resistance from women. The position of women must be retraced throughout history as one who plays an essentially important role in society. She shouldn’t be locked up, or taught that she should be locked up. That’s not a solution, and never will be.