It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to experience the ‘Young Scholars’ programme for high school students in Ashoka University that I realised how strongly I feel about what I am going to write. When I went to Ashoka, I met people from diverse backgrounds from all over the country. I study in a boarding school in Chhattisgarh. It comes in the list of top Indian schools. In spite of this fact, I got a culture shock at Ashoka University! And over time, I realised that the place felt alien to quite a few of us. So, what was this about?
We have some strict rules in school and not following them is almost taboo. We are absolutely not allowed to interact with boys. In class, unless the subject of the discussion is academic, talking to boys often results in getting told off or being taken to the headmaster’s office. In fact, the administration is even more adamant on this, after school hours. We have study time in the evening during which it is considered best for our reputation and record to not talk to boys.
The funniest part is that even our own classmates don’t stop judging us. During mess time, boys and girls eat in separate halls, with their wardens. And if we so much as look at their ‘side’, let alone try to talk to them, a lecture by the wardens on how to ‘behave ourselves’ is guaranteed. On holidays, boys are permitted to roam around the campus without any restrictions. On the other hand, girls are not allowed to so much as step out of their hostel gates. It is not that we have not tried to raise our voice against this but the only answer we get is that it is not safe for girls to go outside their hostel, which is not the case for boys. Why is our freedom to move around restricted because of the school’s security issues which obviously need to be amended?
You would think people become wise with age. However, very recently, a new rule has been made for girls to follow. When they go for sports in the afternoon, it is compulsory that they are dropped and picked up by an ‘aya didi’, whose job is making sure that there is no communication with boys. Also, if a boy wants to meet his sister, he can come to her hostel. However, it cannot be vice versa. It is on a regular basis that wardens in the girls’ hostel give lectures on how it is not ‘safe’ to interact with boys and how they all have the ‘same mentality’, and so, it’s better to stay away. Also, if someone finds out you are dating, consider yourself an outcast.
At Ashoka, we saw the complete opposite happening. We all could talk to each other, could hug each other, could roam around the campus together, could say we were dating without any hesitation. The boys and girls were absolutely at ease with each other. We could understand the emotions and the thought processes of the boys. And the best part was – we actually valued each other. So today, when I sit and compare both the atmospheres, I stumble upon many realisations. The most important being, as they say, “You don’t know what you have got till it’s gone.”
Every one of us who follows the above rules is curtailing their fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression. We are making ourselves prone to inequality between boys and girls. More importantly, it is about time we realised the side and after effects of this kind of educational setup. In classrooms, we learn about equality and how essential communication and respect for other genders is, while outside the class doors, we are forced to practice exactly the opposite! I adamantly believe that these restrictions are the root cause of so many social problems. This is why, in my school, when spoken to by boys, people become awkward and have no clue what to say. This is why in biology class, when we learn about the reproductive system, there are expressions of either disgust or amusement.
This is why the boys and girl do not get a chance to interact while growing up, and fail to understand the emotions and opinions of each other. Then we reach a milestone where girls are viewed as ‘objects’ or ‘items’ and boys as ‘dangerous’ or ‘cheap’.
Of course, some of us may start thinking differently when we go to college and get a culture shock. But what about the rest of us? How can you possibly expect responsible, broadminded humans to lead the future if you do not ingrain these qualities in them at the earliest stages of their lives? This is when the cycle kicks in. Cases of molestations and rapes appear and feminism reaches its threshold. We won’t even know what triggered the whole cycle by the time it ends. So, how about we begin at the beginning? I know for a fact that there is not just one, but hundreds of schools in the country, where students are made to think and follow rules like these. So, if you are one of those students like me, make yourself heard. Maybe begin with changing our own attitudes and then together, we can all make a difference.