By Nikita Azad:
“A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives. If the universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the Nation and the People.”
Universities are a society’s vanguard and they hold a considerable share of young blood, promote researches into different fields related not only to human lives, but also all living, non-living organisms and processes. Beginning from casual graduation courses to extensive research, universities have the responsibility of carrying it all, handling both dissidence and obedience. But the most significant task which lies on its shoulders is that of developing the scientific bent of the human mind, of posing new challenges for the society, and of nurturing the seeds society depends upon. It is this context that I feel that Punjabi University, Patiala has failed miserably.
Stretched over 320 acres on the outskirts of Patiala, it is mocked by the pseudonym, ‘Khap Panchayat’ among students. It has 54 teaching and research departments, six neighbourhood campuses, 265 affiliated colleges, and a student strength of over 13,000 associated with the main campus. Girls account for 70% of the strength in Humanities’ courses, whereas the ratio reverses in the case of engineering and science ones, whereby engineering department alone has 4000 students studying on the campus.
The campus has six boys hostels and seven girls hostels, which are often overoccupied. Every year a chaos is created during hostel admissions; thus female students often face difficulty during that time. Year after year, the university increases its number of departments and fees, but the condition and status of the hostels remain the same, which affects student life pessimistically. Along with it, there are many mainstream student organizations, a few left oriented unions, some independent groups, but fortunately enough, they keep the campus quite politicised during the year.
When I took admission in the university, I was dumbstruck on seeing the colourful walls of the university, with large smiling, funky photographs, and some sober charts, calls for protests, meetings, and of course, a number of welcome notices. It was only after a few months that I realised that everything here is a part of student politics, good or bad. I still remember the day when I was filling up details on the admission form, and cancelled the choice of residing in hostel because of draconian hostel rules. But, later on I found out that maximum students, especially girls were longing to get a seat in hostels, and many of them had their careers at stake because their parents thought that it would be too risky for a girl to stay in a PG!
The rules of the university are extraordinary for girls because the authority feels that it is their responsibility to ensure their safety; it feels answerable to the parents of girls who have deposited their ‘honour’ on the university’s shoulders. The girls’ hostels have a closing time of 6:00 p.m. in the winters and 7:30 pm in the summers, hold attendance in the evening regularly, allow only two guests per month, prohibit male visitors from entering the hostel, prohibit students to roam in the hostel premises after 10:00 p.m., and do not allow female students to keep two-wheelers!
However the rule for the boys’ hostel is – that there are no rules. In this misogynist atmosphere, when in 2014, 40 female students of Ambedkar hostel protested against the indecent behaviour of warden, the authority called the parents of each one of them in order to threaten them, but due to the pressure of the students, the authorities made a rule that any female student can attend the protest by simply mentioning it in the register.
Along with such derogatory rules, ‘eve-teasing’ is one of most common sights inside the campus, also known as ‘healthy flirting’ among some groups. My friend was a survivor of one such incident. She was going to the university market to purchase something, when two boys, who were driving a Fortuner car commented on her. She tried to ignore them initially, as most girls do, but took a stand against it when they commented a second time. When we tried to bring the incident into the notice of authorities, we found that there is no such committee which deals with cases of gender-based harassment. It was only after much struggle that the authority set up a committee for the same, named the Anti-Sexual Harassment Women’s Committee. Thankfully, so far, all the decisions it has taken have been women-friendly and just.
Overall, the University acts as a catalyst in instilling patriarchy and misogyny in the minds of women, by consciously creating a prison-like atmosphere in the campus. The University believes that reasoning and developing ideas are traits that must remain alien to female students. Actually, it is trying its best to preach women the ideals of becoming obedient, virgin daughters, wives and uphold the honour of the great Indian culture which thinks sitting at strikes, going out in the night, finding partners, even driving brings shame to the culture. It is just another shakha for subjugating women, though it does so in an advanced manner.
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