Why I feel sorry for today's youth

Ranjona BanerjiAlthough I'm not a great one for sentimental nostalgia and the “our days were better” tosh that oldies like me often fall into, I have to admit that I'm feeling really sorry for today's college-going youths.

St Xavier's College, Mumbai, which has long positioned itself as India's trendiest college, has also long had a strange relationship with clothes. By the way, sorry St Stephens, the very fact that you are situated in The Dalli means that you cannot even fathom the cliquey nature of a “South Bombay” life. They speak another language there.

St Xavier
Short story: St Xavier’s College, for its college festival Malhar, banned female students from wearing shorts. The rule did not apply to female students from other colleges or to male students. Presumably there is an Anti-Shorts Brigade which only attacks females who study at St Xavier’s, Mumbai. Representation pic/Thinkstock

Now, for its very popular and well-run college festival Malhar, the principal banned female students of the college from wearing shorts. The rule did not apply to female students from other colleges. And it did not apply to male students. Pants had to be knee-length or more for security reasons. Presumably there is an Anti-Shorts Brigade which only attacks females who study at St Xavier's Mumbai. Meanwhile, in Delhi, the hostel for Jamia Milia withdrew the facility of allowing female students to stay out till 10 pm on two nights a month. No such proscription for male students.

Unfortunately, these rules — and let's accept that institutions are allowed to make up their own — just reek of patriarchy. You can decide who to vote for in a general election at 18 but the length of your skirt you are obviously too stupid, immature and possibly just too female to determine. 'I am locking you up because I care about you' is the ultimate defence. I can see people raising their eyebrows in horror, ready to bring up religious, traditional, social and cultural arguments on why the lives of females must be controlled by someone else, “for their own good”, of course. None of these however are constitutional, or even just arguments, so never mind.

Sadly, young people go to college imagining that they are now free of the restrictions of school and that they will be treated as adults. No such luck as it turns out. Colleges might as well have uniforms because that will end all such pain and controversy. Students in many management colleges and similar institutes have to wear them anyway. As long as the rules are the same for everyone regardless of gender, then we have no problem.

And as it happens, we are all subjects, one way or another, of a “uniform” rule. You wear what most of your friends do because you want to be fashionable and you want to fit in. And when you start working, you get into another kind of uniform. The biggest irony of the “Friday dressing” trend in the corporate world is that in effect it only encourages you to exchange one uniform for another. And that is indeed a very clever form of marketing for a manufacturer of casual clothes.

But back to why I feel sorry for today's young people. It's the 21st century and they are still subject to 18th century rules. There is gender discrimination in basic things. And that much coveted freedom which they hoped to have is a giant mirage. They have to think about their careers all the time, attend every class, carry a stopwatch to a movie and worry about the hemline police as well.

And partly, it is the fault of people like me. We took that “now you are in college so you are free” dictum seriously. I did not attend college in either Mumbai or Delhi, so I had no “SoBo I'm so chic” or “St Stephens I'm so it” attitude. I went to a college which was far worse when it came to academic snobbery because of its age and history — Presidency, Calcutta. We wore what we wanted and that meant jeans. We cut classes and spent hours in the canteen which carried the legend “kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray” on its walls as well as warnings of imminent collapse by the PWD department. We never missed tutorials however. And our parents never came anywhere near us.

For the freedoms we had and wasted, I apologise to you young people of today. If it's any consolation, we were deemed too young to vote. A fair toss-up I'd say.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona

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