The Government Degree College in Baramulla, Kashmir, in a recent notice, which was later shared by Kashmir Women’s Collective on their Facebook page, have some absurd codes of conduct the students must follow in the college premises. These rules include banning of ‘unlawful assembly’ and sloganeering, banning mobile phones, Bluetooth devices, and headphones. The notice reads, “The disciplinary committee shall seize cell phones from students and initiate the proper disciplinary procedure.” Separate resting areas for boys and girls have also been specified. Aimless roaming in the campus has been declared ‘not advisable’ and “boys and girls are strictly advised not to remain in an objectionable position.” The boys are further directed to have a formal haircut and follow “in-genuine use of caps.”
Women students have to get their bags checked when they enter the campus. Such intrusive disciplinary actions are rampant in many higher secondary schools and colleges in Kashmir. Special disciplinary squads have been assigned these duties. The college has demanded that both boys and girls dress according to new guidelines. Girls have been advised to wear white coloured full sleeves below knee length kameez.
The notice, regarding the same, reads, “Girl students are directed not to carry any irrelevant stuff in their bags, otherwise, the objectionable stuff shall be seized by the female disciplinary squad after proper frisking of their bags.”
In my personal experience in the Girls Higher Secondary Islamabad (Anantnag), the ‘objectionable’ stuff that they used to seize were mobile phones, kajal, lipsticks or any other makeup related stuff.
In the higher secondary I attended, we had proper frisking sessions which used to make us really uncomfortable. Most of the times, we were asked to open our tiffins to see if we’d hidden some ‘objectionable’ stuff in there. Our higher secondary had a strict rule of covering our bodies from top to bottom and use two-piece dupattas, one for the head and another over the shoulders. The one on the shoulders had to be properly spread out and the way we donned it would be checked by the female disciplinary squad.
“In Srinagar’s Kothibagh (Women Higher Secondary), surveillance, codes for dress, bag checking, restrictions to freely roam around the campus, arbitrary exercise of power based on teachers’ whims, fancies and moods, raids to see who were bunking classes, strict rules for how to tie one’s hair, moral policing of the worst kind, no pen drives or CDs and smartphones were allowed. If we told them we had study material on our pen drives, they would ask us to go and take printouts and bring only the hard copies inside the college premises,” says Mariyeh Mushtaq, an ex-student of the senior secondary.
Tooba Toufiq, while talking about the rules in Srinagar’s Women’s College, says, “Women’s College was misogyny’s fort. Moral policing was the order of this world and patriarchy was its divine truth. I remember walking into the staff room for my admission without my head covered. I was immediately judged and mocked, “fail ho gayi ho kya?” This did take me by surprise for a while but being the state topper that year was enough of an answer to them. I am glad I did not stay there for long and left it soon after for Delhi University. It was absurdity galore! They actually frisked everyone and did not allow novels or any ‘leisure’ literature inside the college premises. Perhaps, they thought that novels and other literary pieces were “morally corrupting.” Whatever happened after the 16th century did not reach Women’s college.”
She further adds, “And what must I say about Mallinson Girls School. Slut shaming girls was a norm there. It was a camp where they had self-appointed themselves to tame students. This aside, the teachers were extremely irresponsible towards the mental health of girls in the 9th and 10th standards. Instead of counselling them in relation with incidents of self-harm and making sure it doesn’t escalate to something worse, they made sure that the poor student feels all the more alienated. They were hell-bent on shoving down our throats, these unwritten rules.”
Aakash Hassan, an ex-student of GDC Baramulla says, “It is a travesty. The colleges in Kashmir have miserably failed to give proper education. Now, with these rules, it is clear how the students are being treated as primary school kids. They can’t check the bags of students. It is completely bizarre. And who will decide what a “genuine hair-style” is? These diktats are going to further alienate the students. It definitely is most unfortunate, a cruel thing which can happen in an educational institute.”
In my personal opinion, the higher secondary schools and colleges in Kashmir have never even remotely thought of any possibility of critical engagement with knowledge, questioning the status quo and approaching life politically and critically. The culture in these institutions is regressive to an unimaginable level and academic freedom is an alien concept and if that was not enough, it all has the icing on the top, a daily dose of patriarchal diktats sanctioned by the administrations, non-existent gender sensitisation or any sensitivity to mental health and other concerns of students in their most formidable years, with rampant sexism and arbitrary exercise of authority of the worst kind. This kind of choking, stringent environment and college culture rarely leaves any space for political and academic growth of students especially women.