Ambica Naithani is a recent graduate from the History Department of Miranda House. She was also the Head of Research and Study Department of the Women’s Development Cell, Miranda House

The recently released Bollywood film ‘Kabir Singh’ is facing the heat for reinforcing and perpetuating sexism in a society that’s already deeply patriarchal.

Even before the movie came out, it met with controversy in Miranda House, Delhi University - where part of it was shot. In January 2019, as we walked into college we saw blocked paths, huge vans, and men lurking and shouting in almost every corner of the campus. No information was provided as to who these people were and what they were doing on our campus but that did not stop them from screaming at students, preventing us from walking through certain areas. Later, word spread that Shahid Kapoor was filming a movie and his film crew was responsible for creating the chaos.

What no one expected was that the scenes of assault and abuse were shot in a space where hundreds of progressive women are trying to get an education - Miranda House. This was not the first time that this has happened. Two years ago, the film ‘Half Girlfriend’ was also shot in Miranda House and had a scene where the male protagonist forced himself on the female lead, pushing her violently when she did not comply.

As a former resident of Miranda House, I remember the hostel being a safe space for women. Although, it existed with its own problems like discriminatory rules specially put in place to control the mobility of women and even the frequent slut shaming remarks from the warden, the hostel itself was a place of sisterhood, empowerment, and resistance. To see this sacred space being used to romanticise abuse, is not only disgusting but also a violation of an academic space.

The problem with ‘Kabir Singh’ being shot on campus is not just that it opened up the campus to men creating havoc in an academic space, by virtue of their sense of entitlement. In turn, groups of starstruck students were running around campus to get a glimpse of the movie star. Not only did it disrupt classes, but the privacy of the women’s hostel was compromised as men were allowed to enter the residence area.

Jayashree Narzary, a resident of the Miranda House hostel says, “I was coming back from the washroom after taking a shower and suddenly there were many men in the corridor who stared at my body from top to bottom and I felt extremely disgusted. The lawns were filled with cigarette butts in a no-tobacco campus. The crew -- which consisted mostly of men -- not only made us miss out classes by restricting our mobility, but was extremely ill-mannered and highly disrespectful. Still, the impact of the sell out was not that evident until the shooting spot was shifted to the hostel. The residents were never asked or given any prior information about the shooting, which has always happened before. Then one fine day I woke up to find myself feeling harassed.”

“The shoot would continue till 9 pm; we couldn't study for at least a week. When we went to complain, the Vice President of the college said they provided the college with money to organise the annual fest so we have to compromise. So basically, the fest was going to happen at the cost of our privacy and bodies. One day all our rooms were locked and electricity was shut; any man could have entered our rooms unidentified. It was an invasion of a space that you consider your home. The principal and the administration turned a blind eye to repeated complaints,” she says.

The ex Principal, Dr Pratibha Jolly in her speech on Founders Days said, “When we need to earn a quick buck, we also allow the film industry to shoot our beautiful campus.” This statement has a double compound error. First, as a woman and the principal of a women’s college you should not be ready to trade your students’ comfort and education for funds. And second, the ‘beautiful campus’ with its flowers and beautiful infrastructure is maintained from the funds collected through students’ fees. So when the decision of letting a third party enter this academic space is made, the students should become equal stakeholders in the decision making process.

Apurva Sinha, another resident says, “When last year we protested for so long to remove the curfew imposed on girls in the hostel, the principal cited the security and safety of the girls as the reason the administration did not agree to the removal. When our parents wanted to come visit us in the hostel, three hours of one day of the week was fixed for them to visit and even then our fathers could never enter the hostel. But suddenly money does all the wonders.”

“I had around a hundred strange men, walking almost everywhere in the hostel, right from the morning to the night. I wonder where the same people were then - [those] who cited my security and safety. Matlab sellout hokay everything can be compromised, haina?” she adds.

Tridisha Thakuria, another hosteller says, “The biggest disadvantage was faced by the visually impaired residents because they could not even tell who was coming and going from their rooms. The men from the crew were peeping inside our rooms. I even overheard them say ‘It’s a girls hostel, dekh lo jitna dekhna hai.’ My room was locked from the outside without asking or informing me. We were trapped.”

Professors who would like to remain anonymous have also raised concerns saying, “When we want to invite academics or specialists from outside for talks then we are told to keep such sessions after classes get over so that there isn’t any hindrance. So we have to go above and beyond to schedule such important academic discourse after 2 pm but when it comes to inviting people from Bollywood for their promotional events, none of the academic concerns seem to matter”

Navya Kumar, a day scholar provides a different take. “Instead of condemning the entire process, can we try to integrate the schedule comfortably and make a beneficial trade off? Considering the vast array of modern tech and film making methodologies being used, can the film makers maybe hold a workshop for interested students, considering they are already painstakingly bringing the equipment to college. We can have interactive sessions with cultural societies. In return the college could accommodate for some time since on location shoots are necessary for authenticity.”

Miranda House has produced some of the leading women of the country and prides itself on creating a quality educational space for women. But such incidents only reinforce the discrimination against women in academic spaces. With the appointment of Dr Bijayalaxami Nanda, the ex convener of the Women’s Development Cell, as Acting Principal, there is hope for positive change.