Against Lakshman’s Stripe
Curfews on women students stand universally challenged
As I write this, there is fear apparent that’s coming from speaking up against those who have the power to ruin my career, but more than that there is a sense of empowerment seeking freedom, asking me to actualise the ideals of liberty, equality, and justice, which shouldn’t be limited to textbooks as education is not merely a degree in your hand.
The idea of having curfews in women’s hostels exists in many places in India. At Delhi University, first of all, seats in the hostels are so limited that only a few people are ever allocated a seat based on “merit”. Hostels are a necessity for students, and taking advantage of this the administration harasses students along with their parents through red-tapism or arbitrary rules.
In the postgraduate hostels of Delhi University, there is an interview session that the student must “go through” even after their name makes it to the list. This interview session is used as a tool for the moral policing of women students, to ask them about their political affiliations and views, and if god forbid their views are deemed a threat to the administration, there is no surety if they will get a hostel seat.
The message the administration sends through this cheap act of theirs? That of promoting a “submissive” model of women, where they shall not and cannot question anything. If a woman raises a question, the administration reduces it to her character and upbringing.
Women in these DU hostels are not allowed to go out or order food after 10pm, and at the Undergraduate Hostel for Girls the in-time is 8pm. It's no surprise that no such curfew is imposed in the men’s hostels.
The flagbearers of patriarchy, also known as the DU administration, use a language that shows how these people are morally indoctrinated to believe nonsense like the belief that women are naturally inferior to men.
When they say “We've allowed the students to stay out till 10” the word “allow” is in itself is very problematic and offensive. My question is, what if something happens to me at 9.55pm? Then the concept of safety, of parents entrusting them with their daughters, goes down the drain.
Suddenly, at five minutes past 10, the safety concern comes up again.
It's a shame the number of times that students have fallen sick or needed help, and this very administration that talks about safety was nowhere to be seen.
Let me now talk about the amount of money these hostels charge, which is around a lakh. The unrepaired gym and computer room, the absence of medical facilities, the unjustifiably high guest fee, the weak or missing wifi, the long and deliberately complicated process of taking leave, the compulsion of having two local guardians – these say it all.
While women across the country are setting exemplary benchmarks leading to the establishment of many dozens of Shaheen Baghs, where women are sitting on an indefinite strike… here we are at the women hostels of DU still fighting for the permission to eat food after 10pm.
With the administration imposing such rules, students are fearful and hesitant to raise their voice, fearing punishment by the authorities. My aim, as I write this, is to challenge the regressive ideologies of the administration, and to ask them to treat female students as equals in a society that otherwise refuses to do so.
Educational institutes are in the unique position of creating the next generation of leaders, and it comes down to these institutions to make sure they do it right. Enforcing a curfew only upon women creates, subconsciously, the image in students’ minds that females are inferior to males, reinforcing patriarchal ideologies. And that is how they will be perceived in the future as well, because that is what they have been led to think.
The current system discourages female students time and again and the strict policing by college authorities encompasses the daily harassment of women students along with the loss of opportunities which are easily accessed by men on campus.
Throughout human history, almost all the factors that led to the suppression and suffocation of the personality development of women have been created in the name of protecting them.
UGC regulations dated 2 May 2016 declare it unjustified for universities to impose restrictions on women's mobility: “Concern for safety of women students must not be cited to impose discriminatory rules for women in the hostels as compared to male students. Campus safety policies should not result in securitization such as over monitoring or policing or curtailing the freedom of movement, especially for women students and employees.”
I describe the situation in such detail to emphasise that curfews on women students are no more a universally accepted norm - over the past few years they stand universally challenged. When a body such as the UGC has accepted it, why do we, an institution that prides itself on its hundred years of existence, lag behind?
Another aspect of this kind of oppression is that the university reproduces the social divisions of caste, by locking up “good women” inside hostels so they don’t enter into sexual relations that cross the lines of caste. Whereas the bodies of “bad women” do not need protection and are disposable – these being lower-caste, working-class women who are forced into the streets, and night shifts, and extra working hours, through amendments in the labour laws.
The curfew therefore, is a mechanism to control women's sexuality to ensure the stability of the caste hierarchy.
A hostel curfew that discriminates between male and female students symbolises sexism, moral policing, and a regressive mindset that has no place in the society we aim to create and want to be in. Caging women won’t stop the evil from being evil.
Regional Institutes of Education in Bhubaneswar, Ajmer, and Bhopal, Kottayam College in Kerala, the Hidayatullah National Law University in Raipur, the National Institute of Technology in Allahabad, Panjab University in Chandigarh, BITS Pilani, and Miranda House in Delhi University have all witnessed successful student protests against curfews in women’s hostels.
If your concern is safety, let me tell you most rapes in India happen in broad daylight. Instead of restricting women, we should focus on their empowerment.
No wonder there is a gender disparity in Parliament, when women face restrictions from the time that they are students.
The administration pleads that parents have entrusted their daughters to them, their safety is our primary concern – but they fail to understand that my right to question and my fundamental rights cannot be based on parental consent.
We are mature adults, legally capable of casting a vote.
The onus of the mishap should not be put on the woman.
Fewer restrictions, not more, will lead to increased safety. It’s time we worked to normalise the existence of women out in public and on the streets, even at night.
By imposing a curfew, the administration has found an easy way out. Its responsibility is to take concrete steps to prevent violence being perpetrated on women. Instead they choose to cage them, and make them feel guilty for wanting to aquire the public sphere.
Yes! The whole world won’t suddenly change if the patriarchal practice of imposing curfews is removed. But as we assert women’s right to free movement and nullify the crime statistics’ power to paralyse our want for freedom, a lot changes in us, in how we see the world and how the world sees us.
Extending the curfew by half an hour or two is only another administration attempt to humiliate and infantilise the dignity, dreams, and struggles of women students.
We refuse to settle to take the vague arguments that the bureaucracy serves up.
Women demand equality, safety, transparency and access to our own campus, and will settle for nothing less than the complete abolition of curfews in women’s hostels.
College is a home for a significant phase of our lives and we refuse to live these years in fear.
The too many restrictions on women across institutions, leave little memories to cherish and that too in fear.
Women deserve more than a sidelined existence and we must reclaim it.
We can hope to see a wave of change in numerous college hostels, led by women who are done being treated like slaves.
It’s time to unite and fight against the oppression they have dealt us under cover of safety and morality.
झूठी सुरक्षा का खोल दे पोल, बोल सहेली हल्ला बोल!
Tell them the truth about false protection – Girlfriend, make some noise!
Amisha Nanda is a law student at Delhi University.