A government college in Madhya Pradesh’s capital has barred girls from covering their faces citing security reasons, the institute’s principal said on Monday, drawing angry response from students and activists.
Madhya Pradesh has a poor record in women’s safety, recording the country’s highest cases of sexual assault against women in 2013, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau.
Sources in the college said the ban came immediately after a police official, heading a unit raised for women’s security, remarked that girls with covered faces could be mistaken for sex workers by patrolling security personnel.
The comment was made during a seminar at the prestigious Sarojini Naidu Government Girls’ College.
However, it is not the first time police have faced flak for what has been dubbed as “moral policing”.
In 2010, police had imposed a statewide ban on covering faces by women riding two-wheelers, a move justified by then home minister Uma Shankar Gupta who had said that “suspicious elements can also get away because of these scarves.” The present status of the ban is not known.
Several colleges across the country had earlier raised the heckles of students by banning western dresses including jeans and T-shirts.
College principal Shobhna Vajpayee Maroo denied issuing the order after the police “advice” and insisted it was old directive which was not implemented.
“We imposed the ban for the safety of girl students a year ago when a boy entered the college premises by covering his face,” she said, adding that guards at the gate have been asked not to allow students who violate the order.
Namita Sahu, the team in-charge of the Nirbhaya team, said she had given “7-8 reasons for covering the face” and added that those opposing the college ban have highlighted only one.
Students were, however, not amused by the police logic or the college ban.
“We don’t understand how our covered faces can lead police to think of us as involved in immoral activity. Girls cover their faces to protect themselves from the scorching heat and pollution, not to hide their identities,” said a student of the college requested anonymity.
Another student, who also refused to identify herself, refused to follow the ban.
“Today, the Nirbhaya patrolling team in-charge says don’t use scarves. Tomorrow, some minister would say don’t wear jeans. We are not in school. We are ready to obey our principal but not these types of orders,” she added.
Women’s rights activist Prathna Mishra flayed the ban saying it went against the government’s efforts at women empowerment.
The Nirbhaya team was raised after the December 16, 2012 gang rape of a paramedic in Delhi, which had forced the country to beef up security measures for women and bring in harsher legislations to deal with perpetrators.
In 2013, Madhya Pradesh had recorded 4,335 cases of rape and 8,252 cases of intent to outrage modesty, both the highest for any state in the country, NCRB statistics showed. It had also seen 77 dowry deaths in the same year, the third highest in the country.