By Pinjra Tod:
“Parents see these rules as critical to keeping their daughters safe in college, they would hold us responsible if something were to go wrong. If the students want more freedom, they need to negotiate it with their parents instead of us.”
The above statement was made by Pratibha Jolly, Principal, Miranda House College about #pinjratod, in an article that appeared in the Washington Post on 22nd Oct’15. Of course, this argument is nothing new for us. In all struggles against hostel curfews in the past, the hostel administration has repeatedly told women students, “Will your parents agree to this?” or worse, “We shall call up your parents right now and tell them that you wish to roam the streets at night.” Over the last one month, the media has often questioned us — “आपके माँ – बाप को पता है की आप रात को 2 बजे बाहर रहना चाहती हैं? (Do your parents know you want to roam around at 2 in the night?),” “क्या आप आजादी के नाम पर कुछ ज्यादा नहीं मांग रहीं? (Aren’t you asking for too much in the name of freedom?)”, “Delhi is so unsafe. Your parents want the curfew. The college is responsible to them for your safety.”
Oh Dr.Jolly! Your statement lays bare in a dramatically clear and unapologetic manner something that we have been reiterating for a while now: For women students, the university basically functions like a Khap Panchayat, seeking to reproduce structures of patriarchal and Brahmanical oppression and control in collusion with family and society instead of working towards upholding basic constitutional and legal rights. It is quite absurd that the University feels more responsibility towards parents (only in the case of women students, mind you!) than it does to the rights of freedom, mobility and equality enshrined in the Indian constitution.
For many of us, integral to our desire and experience of coming to the university, is also the desire to experience relative autonomy and freedom from claustrophobic regimes of surveillance and control within our homes and societies. Yes, we know better than anybody else how important it is to negotiate and challenge many of the things that our parents and families impose on us. We are already fighting this battle everyday. It is a slow, difficult and challenging process. However, the university, instead of acting as an enabling agent in this struggle, ensures that it plays to perfection the role of the patriarchal guardian in the absence of physical parental control through an elaborate surveillance regime, composed of numerous levels of authorities, rules, registers, gates, locks, guards and CCTVs. By what logic does the university feel responsible to parents about what decisions young ADULT women make? What is this monolithic notion and fantasy of the ‘caring’ ‘loving’ parents that the university harbours? What about parents who force their daughters into marriages discontinuing their education for ‘their best interests’? What about parents who murder their daughters for daring to fall in love with a man from another caste or a woman? And yes, what if there are those few parents who are open to ‘more freedom’ for their daughters, will they be exclusively ‘allowed’ outside after the curfew then? What about those of us with no parents? The university owes no responsibility to us by such a logic! One cannot help but wonder where this ‘responsibility’ to the parents disappears when our parents are unable to pay the ever increasing hostel fees and there is need for financial assistance?
Why is the university willing to listen to parents and not to what its own women students are saying? Don’t they have a stake in deciding how the rules and norms that govern their existence get formulated? The message here is clear: as women, we should be thankful that we have the right to study in the university. It was a long struggle for women to even enter the university space. But now that the university has seen a certain democratisation and women constitute a significant population of the student community, we are not to demand anything beyond the boundaries that have been drawn for us. We should see our entry into education as women not as a right, but as a privilege. Our experience of higher education is to be radically different from that of male students, where our existence within the university is to be limited not only by the structures of caste, class, sexuality, religion and region, but also by a plethora of arbitrary and discriminatory regulations imposed by the university authorities.
Women students are constantly told that these regulations exist for their ‘own safety’. Never mind if the library or the sports centre or any public space is to be the sole domain of men after 7.30pm. If safety is such a huge concern, why don’t we have pro-active sexual harassment complaints committees and gender sensitization cells in our colleges and universities? Where are the posters about what constitutes sexual harassment plastered across campuses like the ones there are about ragging? Where are the street lights in our ‘smart-city’ campuses? Why are we repeatedly locked out of our only place in the city when we miss the curfew time? We can recount so many nights of panic spent trying to find a friend’s flat/PG to crash for the night because the warden has refused to let us in after the ‘deadline’ or because we did not have it in us to face the humiliation directed at us for being late? If safety was such a priority, why do universities leave most of its women students to the mercy of landlords in private accommodations? Why aren’t there more women’s hostels? It is pathetic that the most consistent and committed manner in which the university authorities have sought to address the issue of safety of its women students through decades and across generations is by locking them up.
We hence, believe that underlining this narrative of ‘safety’, is the patriarchal ploy of the need to ‘protect’ and ‘safeguard’ women’s ‘honour’ and a deep misogynist fear of the assertion of women’s autonomy and sexuality. Why is the university seeking to mediate its relationship with women students through parents? Through such a gesture, it denies us our own autonomous existence as young adult women, and instead reduces us primarily to the category of ‘daughters’ whose custodian the university is to become in the intermediary during the journey of patriarchal control from the father to the husband. The ‘care’ of the warden and hostel authorities should ensure that there is no disruption in the passage and exchange of women as ‘property’ from the family to the marital home.
By locking up women in the name of ‘safety’ and ‘accountability to parents’, the university seeks to reinforce and internalise within us the idea that we as women are really not capable of taking care of ourselves and cannot be ‘trusted’ as adults to handle and negotiate questions of safety in the streets and in the city on our own (even though we are actually making these decisions all the bloody time, be it on the streets, the bus, the metro, or within the hostel/library/campus itself!).
However, the contradiction lies in the fact that while we are seen as ‘responsible’ and ‘independent’ enough to vote or to find means to fund the rising costs of education by working part-time jobs, all our ‘capacities’ miraculously fail us when it comes to negotiating the campus and the city after curfew hours. This is what a Miranda House faculty member said in 2007 when students demanded an extension of curfew, “If the deadline becomes 11pm, all women will come back pregnant.” Similarly, a faculty in St.Stephen’s college had remarked, “If the girls’ blocks are open, we’ll have to open a maternity ward.” It cannot be more clear about how this is not about ‘safety’, but a paranoia that as women students we may ‘transgress’, that we may disobey, maybe even explore ‘forbidden’ joys — disrupting our journey towards being produced as ‘ideal’ women who fit the dictates of the marriage and labour market. Young women out on the streets at night walking/talking/working/studying/loving might as well be this ‘nation’s’ worst collective nightmare.
It is in these very colleges that you are asked to come to class and graded for ‘attendance’ to engage with courses on feminist theory and practice. Oh wait! What was that other statement you so proudly made Dr. Jolly in this regard? “We are a women’s college that gives wings to the students. We are not a prison.” Why then are we ‘inmates’ governed by a ‘curfew’, who if we dare imagine a ‘feminist utopia’ of dancing together in the streets at night under the moonlight, ‘criminals’ we shall be?
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