Many Indian colleges can be considered to be notorious for preaching gender equality yet housing rules that propagate inequality. Panjab University was until recently one such example.
In a recent victory, students were able to obtain the right to be able to access entry in hostels at any time. However, leaving the hostel after 11:00 p.m. will require an entry to be made in the register.
The women’s hostel had a strict curfew and latecomers were charged a hefty fine. However, with the electing of the first woman president of the Panjab University Campus Students Council (PUCSC), Kanupriya, things were about to change.
The issue also reached the Punjab-Haryana High Court. The governing body of the college had cited various reasons for maintaining the hostel curfew on various media platforms during the hearing.
As reported by The Indian Express, the petitioner claimed that “In the present case, the conditions as imposed in the hostel rules for the girls are reasonable and are necessary in the larger interest of the general public/women. If the restriction is not imposed upon the timings of the girls hostel then there would be a possibility of sexual exploitation of the girls and increasing of crime against girls such as rape, kidnapping and abduction for different purposes.”
The same report also stated the petitioners as saying that it was a political goal, “In the petition, it has been said that the demand is being made to ‘achieve political goals’ and a conscious decision had been made by the university while issuing its Hand Book of Hostel Rules in June 2018 not to keep the girls’ hostels open for 24 hours.”
In the massive protest that spanned 48 days, women students finally achieved the right to leave the hostel at any time. This was a big step in making the university an equal space. It was also the first time in university history that women stayed out of the hostels post 9:00 p.m.
The protest persisted despite high expectations that it would fizzle out. The Senate (governing body of the university) after over a long deliberation on Saturday, finally agreed to the demand to make the hostel have 24×7 entry.
Recalling some of the arguments in the Senate, Kanupriya was reported by Edexlive as saying, “Some of the things that people said were just beautiful and it was so thrilling to hear them speak for us. One gentleman said, ‘What twisted logic is this to lock up the women and when we are trying to give them an education?’ Another asked how it was fair to put the women behind the cages, when the predators should be behind them, like in a zoo.”
Initially, the Senate proposed slashing the fines by 50%, however the student body refused the offer. After intense discussions, the Senate agreed to the demands and made the hostels curfew-free, however a register is to be maintained. Women leaving the hostel post 11:00 p.m. are to sign in the register.
While this is a huge victory for gender equality in university spaces, the question that haunts us is: Why are women protesting and fighting for rights which should be inherent?
In the 21st century, women asking for freedom of movement should be scary, given that the safety of students is a responsibility of the university. Holding women hostages does not help anyone, it only makes us disregard the larger issues at hand.