Recently, the highly ranked Hindu College, in Delhi University, started a women's hostel. Everyone cheered and few asked why it took the 117-year-old college so long. After all, why single it out? This is the story in so many colleges even in the big cities of India.
Anyway, as we know, all proclamations of gender equality are a gift horse that must be looked in the mouth. And here's what a look at this particular gift reveals. First, the fees: R82,000 annually for the women's hostel in comparison to Rs 47,000 for men. Residents cannot enroll in coaching classes or part/full-time employment without prior permission from the warden. Thoda gender, thoda class. Equal treatment of another kind.
A 2015 photograph of student activist Shriya Subhashini (unseen) at Delhi University campaigning for equal rights for women in hostels. Pic/AFP
There was of course a dress code-why control by halves? "Residents are expected to dress in a manner which is the normal norm in society" while in common areas. That's the kind of vagueness that leaves everything to the discretion of "authorities" clearing the path for, well, authoritarianism. This rule has been withdrawn now after protests.
Most importantly, girls cannot have visitors in their rooms and must meet only in the visitors room. And then, only those whom their parents have submitted in an approved list at the time
No other rule belies the true approach to women than the last one. Girls' education is our favourite ploy to prove we care about women's freedom and progress, when this is the very thing we grudge women. How are students supposed to make new friends and support structures in a new place then?
Not so long ago, girls at Aligarh University had to fight against discrimination in library access. The movement Pinjra Tod/Break the Hostel Locks, organising for fair, freer women's hostels, has hundreds of women from around the country responding, often anonymously because they feared retribution from authorities if they speak up openly.
Of course "authorities", those authors of rules, will have many "good" reasons to justify prejudicial rules. It's all for the safety and izzat of girls. Their parents want us to do this.
And it's true. Parents collude with authorities on this front. They heap all responsibility and rules on young women so no one can ask them, bhai, what rules and responsibilities apply to you? These kinds of rules are in fact the refusal to take responsibility for a nurturing, enabling environment for young people to transition to adulthood.With all these rules, the young Dalit woman, Delta Meghwal murdered and possibly raped in a college in Bihar was not protected even in her own hostel.
Such rules show that we want to give women an education, but throw it in their faces, saying, don't ask for anything else. Don't expect to be free, make friends and strengthen networks, learn new things, explore new cities,
learn how to be a person in the world. Your job is just to be an achieving mark-sheet, which is society's forged certificate of progressiveness. Last week, a young woman in Kota killed herself because she thought her JEE marks weren't good enough, though they were far more than that.
But, how to have any sense of proportion, when that's all you are expected to have - marks? Parents, wardens and colleges need to think about the meaning of education: how it can strengthen spirits and make resilient adults who can cope with life. The fantasy of submissive automata might seem to indicate order and control. But it is violence whose costs are the deep loss of spirit and soul of our own children. Grow up and face this so it can change.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com