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Student Lists All That’s Wrong At Punjabi Univ: Sexism, Discrimination & Regressive Rules

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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.

-Jawaharlal Nehru

punjabi university
Punjabi University, Patiala. Image Source: WordPress

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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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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