‘Lady Guards Stop Women From Wearing Shorts’: An Ex-Student On Sexism At NIT-K

NITs and IITs are considered the top engineering colleges in India. With severe competition, where the intake ratio is less than 0.5%, these institutes are reputed as temples of learning, thinking and groundbreaking research. As the leaders of progressive thinking and education, you would expect the universities to try to improve on the research culture and the quality of education to work, to raise the standards to higher and higher levels as time goes by. We have seen this happen at several IITs such as IIT-B and IIT-M. However, NITs tend to lag behind in academic progress and the creation of a strong research environment by a large margin.

 One of the major differences between top NITs and top IITs is that these IITs do not have different rules for male and female students of the institute.

As a former National Institute of Technology, Karnataka student, from my experience, it is very easy for me to see why the performance of my college has been on the decline.

Situated on the shore of the Arabian Sea, NIT-K is probably one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. One enters the campus with the hopes of studying in a top college in the country, experiencing hostel life, spending day and night, working hard at a project, that could very well be called your baby and even late night conversations with friends leading to interesting debates and discussions. These are dreams that every young 17-year-old has, as they step into a university, after having worked so hard for two years.

If you are a male student at NIT-K, you will definitely have these experiences. If you are a female student, not so much.

You are greeted at the women’s block gate, by a ferocious looking lady guard, who doesn’t even let your father in to help with the huge suitcases, mattresses and cartons you have brought your belongings in. You are forced to carry it up the stairs all by yourself, and if you’re lucky, a few warm hearted seniors will help you carry it in. The block timings of 7:30 pm, when the classes end at 5 pm, make you gaze wistfully, as the boys go to beaches, to towns nearby, get acquainted with the labs and even start working in some of them, on small projects as part of student clubs.

Our technical fests include wonderful creations of engineering, ‘jugaad‘ and brainstorming, none of which the women can take part in, because of the block timings. There are companies like Microsoft, that come to conduct 24-hour hackathons, which women can only attend partially, because of these block timings.

Since the women’s block is so small, with such a large population, they don’t even have reading rooms inside the block. Which means that boys can spend as much time as they want to in the common libraries, but women can’t because they have to go back to their hostels. Due to the rising number of women, three people have to stay in a room meant for two people, while paying the same amount of hostel fee. In addition to cramped living conditions, and harassment from the authorities, as they impose gender biased rules, any complaints or protests against the treatment results in strict disciplinary action against the female students.

During an open meet, when the block timing issue was brought up by a fellow female student, the dean of student welfare at the time, remarked “As if you will get ten pointer if we let you stay in library at night” “as the rest of the ‘respectable’ deans and the Director guffawed at the joke.

Female students are not even allowed to return late from their labs after block timings, not even if they are working on a course project, let alone independent research projects. The situation with block timing is so severe, that a girl, who came late to the hostel, by ten minutes, because she got injured and couldn’t walk fast enough to the block was called for a disciplinary action hearing, with all the wardens shouting the nastiest insults about her character for daring to reason with them for having come so late, in such a ‘short dress’.

That brings us to my next point. Moral policing. The administration of the institute seems to consist of individuals who were probably born two centuries ago, fell into cryonic sleep, and woke up in the 21st century! Women students are looked down upon, even for interacting with members of the opposite gender. There was even an instance of a professor calling a woman’s parents, to inform them of her ‘shameful’ act of hugging a boy on his birthday.

We have lady guards, who stop women from wearing shorts at the gate and make them go back to change. There are wardens who stop women in dresses in the middle of the road and shout at them for dressing ‘indecently’ and the authority that shames women for their choice of clothing during the college fests. There was an instance of a drunk warden shouting at a female student, well above the legal age, who had arrived buzzed, from a dinner party with alcohol. Her upbringing was demeaned since she was drinking. How can such hypocrites, so confidently indulge in such aggressive and misogynistic behaviour?

With such a hostile environment, where students are even punished for speaking up against such biased behavior, where women are treated less like students and more like prisoners and made to feel scared of the very people who are supposed to be responsible for them, so much so that it took me two years after graduation, after all my degree certificates and transcripts had arrived, to make sure the administration could not hurt me, to even dare to write a post like this. How do you expect a synergistic environment to get created to produce quality research?

Most of the research happens by male students, simply because they have the means to do it, whereas the female students, a sizeable population on campus, are not even allowed the freedom to make their own choices. There isn’t enough research happening because there simply aren’t enough people who are given the opportunity to do it! How do you expect the same quality of research and education?

The only solution to this problem is if we, men and women, collectively and actively fight against such educational institutions with sexist policies. These policies not only hinder the development of the female individuals, they also affect the productivity of the institution itself. It seems so ridiculous that so many years after fighting for equality, women still have to fight to be treated equally as students.

This attitude needs to change. And we must fight it together, both students, and teachers. Stephen Covey states, so eloquently, “Life is, by nature, highly interdependentTo try to achieve maximum effectiveness through independence is like trying to play tennis with a golf club.” The entire academic community should come together to work to bring about a conducive environment for interdependent and creative research between both genders, like the kind that exists in IIT-B or IISc. Only when all those involved in research are given the freedom to work, will they be able to give their best to it.

College ke chaar saal life ke best chaar saal hote hai,” (The four years of college are the best years of life.) is something everyone hears. The boys at NIT-K will agree, having been able to work whenever they wanted at their labs, study at the library, attend 24-hour  workshops and hackathons, indulge in long night beach walks, go for trips together with friends and having made the most of their time here. The women, on the other hand, graduate with so many ‘if only’s’.

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Image source: Jeffrey Pott/ Flickr

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