The Capital recently witnessed a protest by student activists belonging to Pinjra Tod: Break The Hostel Locks, a campaign to fight against the discriminatory and sexist rules for women staying in college and university hostels.
The protest was a result of HRD minister Smriti Irani’s recent statement that said, “In India, I don’t think any woman is dictated what to wear, how to wear, whom to meet, when to meet...”
The activists read out rules from various hostel booklets that according to students are “regressive” and they “bind and constrain” their lives. “We wanted to inform her how university hostels are so patriarchal that they govern women on what to do, whom to meet, what to wear, when to go out… the list is endless,” said Devangana Kalita, a member.
The campaign kicked off in September to protest against cancellation of late nights for women hostellers in Jamia Milia University. “This campaign fights to end gender discrimination in women hostels across the country. Hostels for women are like prisons. The rules are just ludicrous. It is claimed that it is being done for our safety, but instead, these rules just end up treating us like children. In many women’s hostels, if you are late by even five minutes, the doors are closed, and we’re left to fend for ourselves during the entire night. The curfew hour in many hostels start as early as 7.30pm! Where is the safety in this?” asks Kalita. While women are penalised for not obeying the deadlines, men have it easy. The rules are much more relaxed and sometimes, curfew hours aren’t even implemented strictly for them.
“This is not about safety of women. It’s moral policing and it is anxiety about a woman’s sexuality because they think that if you are out late in the night, it’s for all the wrong reasons! If you want to have a night out, you need parental permission 24 hours in advance. In some universities, international female students are not allowed night outs till they get a letter signed from the embassy,” adds Kalita.
Libraries and laboratories are open till 2am, but the curfew hour means denying access to female students, while male students face no such problems. “The library at Jamia is open till 2am while the curfew hour is 8.30 pm. How is this justified? We agree that safety is an issue but universities have to understand that it is women’s autonomy on how they negotiate safety. Streets are unsafe because there are hardly any women on the streets in the night. If you allow women to reclaim the night, it wouldn’t be such an unsafe situation, would it?” says Kalita.