Indian society has always revered women. In Hinduism, man and woman represent two halves of the divine body. There is no question of superiority or inferiority between them. Hindu history is witness to the super-women, such as Gargi, Maitreyi, and Sulabha, whose faculties of reasoning was far superior to that of ordinary mortals. Many female deities like Saraswati, Durga, Laxmi, Kali etc., are worshipped across the country. According to the “Mahabharat,” by cherishing the woman one virtually worships the goddess of prosperity.
On the darker side, the patriarchal system has continued since the time of Rig Veda. Customs and values were made by men to favour men. Women suffer this discrimination in silence.
Historically, the Indian woman has been made to adopt contradictory roles. The strength of a woman is evoked to ensure that women effectively play their traditional roles of nurturers as daughters, mothers, wives, and daughters-in-laws. On the other hand, the stereotype of a ‘weak and helpless woman’ is fostered to ensure complete dependence on the male sex.
The term Indian women’s movement is highly contested. The appellation of ‘Indian’, when used for the women’s movement, implies a political and cultural singularity that obscures the movement’s diversity, differences, and conflicts. The problem is not simply one of the disunities but rather has to do with intractable conflicts involving the word ‘women’ that derive from the central position of gender in postcolonial Indian culture and politics.
Indeed, processes of gender – the construction of identities, roles, and relations based on sexual differences – played a key role in the historical formation of the Indian nation-state. But gender cannot be separated from other, conflicting political identities, all of which play a crucial role in the life of the nation.
Gender has been a central ‘issue’ in India since the colonial encounter. An overwhelming preoccupation with the ‘woman’s question’ arose from the 19th-century social reform movement, crucially informed anti-colonial nationalism, and remains a point of crisis in India’s cultural, social, and political space. The recognition of gender as an issue forms the basis for India’s women’s movement. One prominent gender concern was status – that is, the rewards and benefits that accrued to women on India’s journey to self-determination, statehood, democracy, progress, modernity, and development.
In 1974, the Indian government published a report, “Towards Equality”, that put the status of women forcefully on the national agenda, by arguing that the position of Indian women had declined, not improved, since 1911 (Committee on the Status of Women 1974). As a result, development and progress became gender issues. Data on gender discrimination in employment, education, land distribution, inheritance, nutrition, and health became impossible to overlook. At the same time, violence against women was on the rise and widely reported in the media. There were cases of rape in police custody, murders of married women (usually called bride-burning or dowry deaths) on a large scale, and sexual harassment in the workplace and on the street.
Women’s issues entered the fields of culture, religion, and law; of family and community structures; of the problems of and official responses to population, poverty, illiteracy, and labour; and of the new social movements of Dalits, environmentalists, tribals, anti-dam activists, peasants, and trade unions.
Let’s start from Banaras Hindu University (BHU). On the evening of September 21, 2017, a girl was allegedly molested by some students. The girl cried for help, but none of the guards came to her rescue. Somehow, she managed to call up her friends who took her to the hostel in a semi-conscious state. When the group went to complain, the head, an educated woman herself questioned her and slut-shamed her.
Students then started protesting at the BHU main gate from the next morning. This was the day when PM Modi was visiting Varanasi. The girls were joined by few male student from the University. Their only demand was to get security – install CCTVs, proper street lighting and an active women cell. They wished to speak to the VC but were not allowed access and the protests went on.
The next day, students were surrounded by forces and were brutally lathicharged at night. They all were surrounded by the huge deployment of forces and suddenly, without any prior notice, at around 10 pm, they were brutally lathicharged. It did not stop till the students were in their hostel rooms. Tear gas shells were thrown in the hostel.
It’s not just about BHU only. I also took a look at the hostel rules in other prestigious colleges.
Aligarh Muslim University: It was only last year that the provost of a hostel in Aligarh Muslim University had locked students inside the hostel because they wanted to stay past the curfew of 6:30 pm.
Girls in AMU’s hostels are allowed only one day outside campus – Sundays. If they need to leave mid-week, a fax with their parents’ signature on it has to be submitted a day ahead.
While the curfew hour for women is 6:30 pm, there is no such restriction for men.
Jamia Milia University: In Delhi’s revered Jamia Milia Islamia University, women have a 7:45 pm deadline, while male students can stay out until 10 pm. In Jamia’s women’s hostel, even Ph.D. students “can not absent themselves… except for field work.”
The rules stipulate that even for field work, “leave applications should be forwarded and recommended by the research supervisor and countersigned by the Head and the Dean of the Department in advance before proceeding on leave. The same will apply for their leave from the hostel during the vacations or in case they require leave from the hostel for more than seven days.”
Fergusson College Pune: I asked a friend about how her life at college was, here’s what she had to say:
“Life at Fergusson is awesome but hostel sucks. They try to be as orthodox as they can in the name of security when it comes to girls’ hostels. The in time is 8 pm. A cell phone is strictly prohibited. You have no option other than dining at their hostel mess as the in-time is 8 pm. You are not allowed to bring any of your friends in the hostel who is a day scholar. It is like staying in the prison. The hostels, especially boys’ hostels actually look like prison. The chief rector Mr. Vhankatte just doesn’t give a damn when it comes to the rules. Moreover, he is fully supported by the college principal. You must abide by the rules and failing to which you are simply given the notice to vacate hostel. I clearly remember, it was in 2014, when a girl called her male friend at the hostel gate to hand over practical journals, she was given the notice to vacate the hostel. She did not know Marathi as she hailed from UP and still she was forced to sign an apology letter written by the rector in Marathi. Then one of the guys from ABVP rescued her, but she was threatened that if she was found to have contacts with the ABVP or any other student organisation, she would be rusticated.”
Shri Ram College of Commerce: The 8 pm rule for women and 10 pm for men seems to exist in SRCC as well – based on the assumption that women need protecting while men don’t. While there is an entire spiel for girls on ‘maintaining decorum’ and ‘proper behaviour with the staff’, there are no such directions for boys in their discipline and code of conduct section. Girls are also told, “Residents are expected to dress in an appropriate manner while visiting the dining hall, visitors’ room and other common spaces in the hostel or college.”
India’s Constitution makers and our founding fathers were very determined to provide equal rights to both women and men. The Constitution of India is one of the finest equality documents in the world. It provides provisions to secure equality in general and gender equality in particular. Various articles in the Constitution safeguard women’s rights by putting them on par with men – socially, politically and economically. The Preamble, the Fundamental Rights and other constitutional provisions provide several general and special safeguards to secure women’s human rights.
Preamble: The Preamble to the Constitution of India assures justice, social, economic and political; equality of status and opportunity and dignity to the individual. Thus it treats both men and women equal.
Fundamental Rights: The policy of women empowerment is well entrenched in the Fundamental Rights enshrined in our Constitution. For instance:
These rights being fundamental rights are justiciable in court and the Government is obliged to follow the same.
Fundamental Duties: Fundamental duties are enshrined in Part IV-A of the Constitution and are positive duties for the people of India to follow. It also contains a duty related to women’s rights.
We need to address the height of hypocrisy in the name of safety now. We also need to concentrate on improving safety, changing the mindset of this chauvinistic, patriarchal society and stop politicians and men in power who play rogue games in the name of ‘safety’ and hinder the liberty of women. The video below is so true, it’s scary. It’s time we do something about this now.