Cage or college: Where men piss freely and women pay for freedom

Our homes and hostels must stop monitoring women with such uncompromising vigilance, akin to watching lab rats.

 |  4-minute read |   28-09-2015
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Yesterday, I logged into Facebook out of habit, only to find my newsfeed crowded with two words - "Pinjra Tod". The term, literally meaning "break the cage", has taken social media as well as various universities in Delhi by a storm. A few women students from reputed universities in Delhi have created an online space to fight against the repressive rules followed by various women's hostels/paying guests. The campaign, currently focused in Delhi, is publicising the need to question gender-discriminatory practices followed by various universities and enabling women to reclaim their freedom. I don't mean freedom in an abstract sense, but simply our physical right to mobility.

I belong to a family of feminists. I have graduated from a college in Delhi University that prides itself on its feminist ethos (LSR), and yet, for so long, I had not paid attention to such rules that exist under the garb of protection. As a girl, being locked up and having her mobility restricted has become so acutely normalised that it takes a while to notice them. There are numerous hostels and PGs in NCR that monitor women residents with such uncompromising vigilance, akin to watching lab rats. We have prisons to keep criminals and predators away from the outside world. But we also create prisons everyday to cage young girls and their dreams.

We know that discrimination exists in our deeply patriarchal society. But these rules further give the existing informal norms institutional legitimacy.

At women's colleges like LSR and Miranda House, residential students have, in the past, not been permitted to wear shorts to the canteen because of the male servers! It is disturbing that even leading "feminist" colleges think that the solution lies in controlling women. What is even worse is that various professional universities, including law schools, ask women to wear clothing well below the knee, even in their dorms and personal spaces. Professors arbitrarily deem what constitutes "appropriate dressing" according to their own standards.

My college has taught me a lot about questioning archaic norms and forging an individual identity. It taught me about rights, inclusivity, and the importance of debate. But while we discussed these ideas in theory during the day, their practical application was overlooked as the residents of the hostels were marched back into their dorms by 7.30pm and locked up behind the high walls.

This obviously reflects our society, which apparently feels so threatened and enticed by the female body that it continues to cage women. My neighbour's ten-year-old son has the freedom to go to the market at 9pm to buy groceries but my 21-year-old adult female friend can't be trusted to be out later than 7.30pm. Residential accommodation for women across the board has a curfew of as early as 8pm. It does not matter if it's a boarding school with 13-year old girls or a working women's hostel with 30-year-olds. All of them have restricted access to the outside world.

Society justifies this control by using a toxic cocktail of fear and concern to make sure that status quo is maintained. The threat of gender-based violence constantly hangs over our heads. This very reality is then used to create fear among women and curb their autonomy. Fear further prevents women from stepping out making public spaces even less women-friendly. It's a vicious circle and it needs to break now.

When you ask a woman to not pursue an activity because it requires her to stay outside after dark, you are teaching her that she must bow her head to circumstances rather than fight for herself and her life. Not only are you denying her constitutional rights, you are also killing all hope of building an equal and progressive world.

I am not denying the fact that security is a serious concern in India. Countless women lose their lives or suffer damage due to gender-based violence. However, the idea that women are required to be "kept safe" by imposing these absurd rules is extremely regressive, unfair, and suffocating. It is as absurd as asking people to stop driving cars because of the high occurrence of road accidents.

A man is free to go outside at 12am to take a piss but most women are not able to enjoy a coffee in the evening because their hostels won't let them return after 8pm. We need to question the institutions that conform to such ideas, even if they are the ones that we revere. Sometimes change begins to occur only out of a place of discomfort.

Also read: Sexual harassment charges against TVF founder show rape culture is the real viral fever

Writer

Urmi Duggal Urmi Duggal

20-something aspiring writer. When she isn't chasing a caffeine high, she likes delving into the deep recesses of the human mind.

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