After the historic victory achieved by women students and residents of the hostel at Jamia Milia Islamia in March 2018, the curfew had been extended to 10:30 pm from the earlier curfew timings of 7:30 pm and 8:00 pm. The victory didn’t come about in one night. It has taken the women at Jamia years of collectivising, un-internalising patriarchy and resisting imposed ‘protection’ and guardianship of the authority. It had taken several petitions, open letters, appeals and protests to reach where they reached on the night of March 19, 2018.
As the new admission procedures for this year are almost nearing their completion and new brochures and prospectus’ have been printed for the courses and the hostels, what we see in the hostel booklet comes as an utter shock to us.
The Jamia administration in a brazen non-transparent, authoritative and undemocratic manner has brought the hostel timings back to 9 pm, and that too during the vacations so that there is no opposition and resistance from the students in the campus. They’re also expecting the anger to simmer down by the time we reach the campus after vacations.
The new prospectus has also issued a strict ban on protests, petitions and signature campaigns, the punishment for doing any of the former would lead to immediate cancellation of a resident’s place in the hostels. Further, almost all the stringent rules have been reintroduced, surveillance increased and the punishment prescribed for misconduct and dissent with the authorities.
The current hostel residents and the incoming batches need to know and understand how after years of struggles, the freedom to mobility and accessibility for women was achieved and the curfew was extended to 10:30 pm. You can read the complete manual here.
Adult women are capable of taking care of themselves and taking the right decisions. We deserve equal opportunities, accessibility, and visibility in all academic, political, and public spaces. We deserve the right to attend public meetings, seminars and libraries at whatever ‘odd’ times we want. These are our fundamental rights, and no administration can snatch them from us. We will not accept this authoritarianism at all. The regressions in the new prospectus and hostel rules need to be done away with or the admin could prepare to face resistance.
Naseema Choudhary, an ex-hosteller says, “This is unacceptable. The hostel administration has gone back to age-old rules of locking up women students in the name of safety. But the students will not give in to such discriminatory rules and oppose it in every possible way.”
Many residents of the hostel and participants of the protest in March were seen expressing their anger on social media platforms after the brochure became public.
I contacted the provost Azra Khurshid and asked her about the changes in the prospectus despite the new curfew timings and other rules that were agreed to by the Jamia administration on March 19, 2018. She said, “There were no struggles. That night in March, there were only 15 – 20 girls from the Old Hostel and some 10-15 girls from the New Hostel and the rest were outsiders. Only a few girls were shouting and instigating others from the front. They banged the gates, played ‘dhols’, this is no way. They didn’t hold dialogues with us. One fine evening they came and protested. This is no way. It was motivated by the outsiders. It had never happened in Jamia in years and years. If these women want to roam at night, they should stay out of the hostels, living in hostels is not compulsory anyway. We saw how the extended curfew time would work and gave them two months. There were many problems and now we have revised the brochures, we always do these revisions at the end of academic sessions. Moreover, the poor caretakers have to stay up till late in the night, this is no way of managing the hostel. They have to eat cold food, they come from far off places, they have to travel late. Also, it is not my decision. It was decided by the Registrar and the Vice-Chancellor.”
I asked, “but what about the signing and sealing of that permission that night and now abrogating the same, is this the right way to go about it?”
“That was signed on a plain paper under pressure. It wasn’t a legal paper. We didn’t even know what was written there. These 4-5 girls (taking names) pressurised us. The paper doesn’t matter,” she said.
In March, the struggle was not just against the discriminatory and sexist curfew timings but other absolutely stringent, choking hostel rules. The stringent and absurd hostel rules the women were protesting against, included:
1) The women’s hostels had a curfew, the men’s hostels had none (the curfew timing mentioned on paper for the men’s hostel, but it isn’t actively implemented).
2) Show cause notices issued to women residents arbitrarily.
3) Slut shaming and character assassination of the residents by ‘caretakers’ and wardens.
4) For a night out, parents had to be called and asked for permission a night before, and if that wasn’t enough, parents needed to send an SMS as well. The women residents also had to ask the local guardians for permission.
5) Poor quality of food served coupled with restrictions on ordering food from outside after a certain time.
6) Restriction of mobility even inside the hostel premises and minimum access to reading rooms after certain hours.
7) No late nights could be taken by the old hostellers and only two by the new hostellers.
8) Hostels weren’t allotted to students who didn’t have two local guardians living in the city. There was another condition that the guardians should be married.
The rule on getting married local guardians has been questioned time and again, a current resident at the hostel said, “This rule is so absurd. The students most in need of the hostels are ones who have no one they know living in Delhi, and if they had local guardians, they could easily live with them. Ironically the ones who already have some possibility of securing accommodation in Delhi are given hostels. Actually, what we now do, we get just about get any married couple we know as local guardians which is ridiculously absurd, but we have no option.”
Having to reiterate, the obvious, which unfortunately isn’t obvious to many, even though it has been 18 years into the 21st century: the mentality that infantilises women and thinks that we don’t have an agency of our own needs to go. The notion that women exist only in relation to men, as their sisters, girlfriends, daughters, friends and lack the imagination that we are our own selves and exist as independent beings.
The mindset that they are somehow divinely destined to be our guardians is redundant and regressive, to say the least. The questions of these extended hours leading to crimes fall flat as not all women stay in these curfew-bound places like myself. It is not that those living in apartments and other places keep roaming around the streets, but at least they don’t have a clock ticking on their heads making them anxious all the time, and reminding them that they should return to their cages as soon as possible.
Lastly, the issues of crime and harassment is a sad reality and the approach needs to be, to provide an adequate and competent legal redressal channel in the university and outside. In the campus, there need to be active bodies like the GSCASH or ICC, where the mechanisms are in order, and student representatives are elected through proper democratic means.
Gender sensitisation on the campus is the need of the hour and there’s an urgent need to have gender sensitisation cells and gender forums. This is a rational way of addressing the problem rather than caging women, which patriarchal institutions have historically done and denied us equal representation and opportunities.