Rules are very often arbitrary, just like names; they are there just for the sake of it. However, our hostel and PG administration does provide a very “legitimate” reason for such impositions, especially for women students. According to them, it is for our own “safety” that we should lock ourselves inside the hostel premises after 8 pm (the timings usually range from 7 to 10 pm). The logic behind the rule as I confer is that because women go out at night, hence their safety is in jeopardy. Consequently, if they don’t go out, it won’t happen in the first place. I can’t but admire their intellect in locating the problem. Basically, if you know you will face sexism in the workplace then simply stop working. #ProblemSolved. The problem with such rules is that they are rarely applied to the women students’ male counterparts, especially in PGs where the official administration cannot exercise much or any control.
Cinderella must return before midnight. Damn! She was one lucky woman. I wish I were Cinderella sometimes just so that I could stay out at least till midnight. The gender ratio on streets in Delhi after 10 pm is a nightmare, although we must also keep in mind that mornings aren’t immune from harassers either. One can’t ignore that these arbitrary rules which are specifically imposed on women students are a culmination of the victim blaming mentality that puts the onus of harassment on women while simultaneously restricting their freedom of choice and mobility.
Concerns such as these were shared among several women students which led to the formation of Pinjra Tod. It is an autonomous women’s collective of students and alumni of colleges from across Delhi and other cities that seek to make hostel and paying guest (PG) accommodation regulations less regressive and restrictive for women students with the idea of reclaiming personal and public places. Pinjra Tod has led several protests against such biased rules being imposed on women students by hostel as well as PG owners. In 2016 one such march was disrupted by members of the ABVP who were earlier in 2015 also charged with threatening Pinjra Tod members for putting up posters on the so-called “wall of democracy” in the North Campus.
Such rules also create the sense of illusion that women are best protected inside their houses. Home is any place that provides you with a sense of security but this ‘sense of security’ is threatened every time you look for a temporary residence in a new place. Finding accommodation in the North Campus area of Delhi University is not very difficult since the insufficient availability of seats in Delhi University hostels has set the platform for the blooming PG and renting flats business in the nearby (like Mukherjee Nagar) and faraway places (like Ghaziabad). There have been several cases of fraud, violence and sexual harassment by PG owners.
Ravali Gudipalli, a student of Ramjas College recently posted about the harassment she has been facing from her landlord, “Intruding into my room against my permission and against my clear warning. Constant breach of privacy. Standing at uncomfortable distances, making desperate efforts for physical touch. Commenting on my clothes, body, character and friends has become a constant.” When Ravali and her friends (also at the receiving end of harassment by the same owner) tried talking to the broker about the harassment, she found out that the landlord had already spoken to him and asked him to throw her out on the grounds of her “character.” It’s one of the most cited reasons for kicking women students out of their temporary residents and also simultaneously work as a mechanism for silencing them.
When asked about the recurrence of such incidents Ravali commented “I am not the only one who is trapped in this kind of harassment. I have faced sexual harassment from another landlord in the same area and this is an area-wide phenomenon which is victimising almost all the women students living in the North Campus residential area.”
The problem is not just limited to North Campus. Two years ago, an LSR student was reportedly harassed inside her PG by a stranger who was later chased away without any official inquiry by the police. While the police resorted to moral policing of the student, her PG owner made a remark about how “girls should behave.” In fact, last to last year students residing in Hudson Lane too had complained about the fraud committed by their landlord who had also harassed them. The case had gathered momentum when Pinjra Tod had protested against the landlord and made sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice. Pinjra Tod took it a step further by promising to release a block list of PGs and flats that should be avoided by students.
The most upsetting part, however, is the indifference of the administration towards the plight faced by its students at the hands of these landlords. The safety of a student should be the prime priority of an institution. It cannot dodge its responsibility by merely stating that these cases do not fall in its area of jurisdiction because it happened outside the campus. The University should either make available more seats in its hostels or at least work in harmony with organisations like Pinjra Tod to make sure that students aren’t vulnerable to situations that compromise their security.