The student community at Delhi University loves the festival of lights. One would be convinced of it if one got a chance to experience the Diwali melas conducted by the colleges of the University; be it Hindu college located in North Campus or Lady Shri Ram College (LSR) located in South Campus. Most colleges in Delhi University (DU) organise their own respective Diwali melas each year. National Service Scheme (NSS) also organises an annual Diwali mela called Noor at LSR. Noor is the Urdu word for light. NSS happens to be the largest community within the college and has hundreds of volunteers. At LSR, Noor is undeniably one of the events that the students look forward to. However, certain rules and regulations which operate during the mela every year, display the erratic beliefs of the college authorities and throw light on its ironic functioning. While females are provided free entry to the mela, boys above the age of 14 are not permitted to enter the college premises. This age bar has been in place for quite a number of years now and raises questions over the mindset of the authorities putting a restriction like this. It is important to note that such a restriction is not imposed during the annual college cultural fest Tarang or any other event organised by specific departments of the college. Not allowing men to enter the college premises is an absurd and unwarranted restriction.
While some people argue in favour of this restriction, it is important to understand and question why this restriction has been put in place. Security of the students is cited as the primary reason for barring entry to boys above 14 years of age. However, what exactly do the students need to be protected from has remained unquestioned and unexplained over the years. This argument of security is inherently based on the assumption that the security of the students in a women’s college is at risk if boys above the age of 14 are to enter the premises of the college. Moreover, there is a sudden need for this protection at one particular event, while at other events the entry is open to everyone as long as they have a valid ID proof. Another reason which is cited for this restriction is the security of the children who visit the mela from various non-governmental organisations which come under NSS LSR or collaborate with them. However, this explanation is equally unconvincing as there is a security team in place every year at the mela and every event in which students from other colleges visit. Just like every year, there was a security team in place this year as well. The separate project teams within NSS make sure that there are enough number of volunteers who are assigned to look after the children of each NGO and to ensure their safety and security within the college campus. NSS does not have a scarcity of volunteers given the fact that it is the largest community within the campus in terms of its membership. Moreover, duties for the security team are divided into shifts, which ensures that volunteers performing the duty are always on their feet.
By restricting entry, LSR excludes a lot of members belonging to the NSS community too. NSS has old age homes such as Aashirwad under its ambit. If people at Aashirwad were to be invited to the mela, the invitation could only be extended to the female members. Moreover, boys above the age of 14 are also part of many NGOs which come under the ambit of NSS – such as Khushboo Project. Even they aren’t eligible to attend the mela. To what extent is such a restriction justified? NSS under LSR has been involved in various constructive initiatives so far, including workshops and other events. As such, the NSS Union does not have the power to decide who is permitted to attend its event. While the decision solely lies in the hands of the authorities of the institution, the student community needs to demand a change in such a restrictive and baseless rule.
The tradition of not permitting males above a certain age for its Diwali mela has been going on for quite a long time and has remained unjustified throughout. Unions will continue to change and so will the volunteers. However, by not questioning the college over such selective regulations, the essence of studying in the so-called best liberal arts college in India is being lost somewhere. Since its inception, LSR has symbolised itself as a liberal space for women. By not allowing boys to enter the premises, it is contradicting its own views and thoughts. It seems as though the college feels that the absence of men beyond a certain age can indeed ensure security and safety for women. Men and people belonging to other gender identities should be welcomed in the campus instead of being shunned away on the grounds of security. It will signify equality.