A group of angry protestors — mostly women — clashed with the police this week after an incident of sexual harassment in Uttar Pradesh's Banarash Hindu University (BHU) came to light.
"UP police sharam karo", "Yogi sarkar sharam karo", "Hum apna adhikar maangte, nahi kisi se bheek maangte," were some of the slogans students raised in front of the Uttar Pradesh Bhavan in New Delhi on Monday. An FIR against more than 1000 students was filed.
As women demanded their right to safety inside the campus, Vice-Chancellor GC Tripathi decided to shift the blame on the victim of sexual harassment, saying that she should not have ventured out at night. Hostel rules of BHU — apparently to ensure women's safety — mandate that no cellphones are allowed for after 10 pm. It gets worse — the rules also require that women not consume non-vegetarian food in the hostels and not wear short dresses and skirts. They are reportedly even made to sign an affidavit declaring that they won't participate in protests and agitations. They are not even allowed to visit the library after certain hours because the vice chancellor thinks "girls who study in the night are immoral."
The rules for men are different. Surprise, surprise.
Pinjra Tod, an organisation that is working towards freeing the streets for women, led the protest at UP Bhavan. They said in a Facebook post:
"Women have had enough of maintaining silence around harassment and being told that the only way to ensure their safety is through patriarchal protectionism and their own 'caging.' BHU women have made it clear that caging for our 'best interest' is nothing but infantilisation of women. They have stated that they will not buy into the false security rhetoric which instead of making Universities and public spaces more conducive to their participation, seeks at further ghetto-ising them and rendering themselves invisible."
Such infantalisation of women is not restricted to BHU alone. Regressive rules in the name of protection, instead of making colleges and universities safer, are part of the agenda of several colleges across India. Suffocating hostel rules are often used to confine, contain and silence women into submission in the name of providing safety. Invisibility is often proscribed as a method to safety.
We took a look at some of the hostel rules.
Aligarh Muslim University
It was only last year that the provost of a hostel in Aligarh Muslim University had locked students inside the hostel because they wanted to stay past the curfew of 6:30 pm.
Girls in AMU's hostels are allowed only one day outside campus — Sundays. If they need to leave mid-week, a fax with their parents' signature on it is has to be submitted a day ahead.
While the curfew hour for women is 6:30 pm, there is no such restriction for men.
Jamia Milia University
In Delhi's revered Jamia Milia Islamia University, women have a 7:45 pm deadline, while male students can stay out till 10 pm. In Jamia's women's hostel, even PhD students "cannot absent themselves... except for field work."
The rules stipulate that even for field work, "leave applications should be forwarded and recommended by the research supervisor and countersigned by the Head and the Dean of the Department in advance before proceeding on leave. The same will apply for their leave from the hostel during the vacations or in case they require leave from the hostel for more than seven days."
In Pune's Fergusson College, "ladies" have to report to their hostels by 8:00 pm and "gents" by 10 pm. Women are not even allowed to use cellphones after 10 pm.
The "rules and regulations" document of the college also calls for "very decent" behaviour "including dresses." There is also a ban on "indecent, unusual and abnormal behavior". However, the document does not clarify what amounts to it, and presumably the students are at the mercy of the warden or the provost when it comes to penalisation for the same.
It is also compulsory for all women to eat at the hostel mess, while men have no similar restrictions.
The 8 pm rule for women and 10 pm for men seems to exist in SRCC as well — based on the assumption that women need protecting while men don't.
While there is an entire spiel for girls on "maintaining decorum" and "proper behaviour with the staff", there are no such directions for boys in their discipline and code of conduct section.
Girls are also told "Residents are expected to dress in an appropriate manner while visiting the dining hail, visitors' room and other common spaces in the hostel or college."
Delhi's Miranda House seems to have something called a "leave book". Every time ADULT students need to stay outside overnight, they have to have a "local guardian" sign their leave book. A phone call from a parent is not enough.
Meanwhile, only parents can authorise nights out for their adult daughters. "Night leaves" are allowed for six nights in a month. Be it Jamia or even SRCC, these night leaves are mostly restricted to the weekends with prior permission from parents.
Sheetal NS, a second year BA English Honours student, told HuffPost India, "On paper the rules are the same for boys and girls in Delhi's Hindu College, in the girls' hostel an 8 pm deadline is strictly followed."
She says that the rules are arbitrary, because while the boys hostel has been around for ages, the girls hostel is new and does not have a hostel committee, as stipulated by DU and UGC guidelines, to make these rules for the girls hostel.
"The best thing would be to allow women to be outside their hostel rooms, but inside the campus."
Hindu College Professor of the English Department, Prem Vijayan, told HuffPost India, "I see the point most administrations would have. Because they would have to deal more with parents more than students."
"However, PG students are also perhaps right when they say the don't need others to schedule their lives. There are always two sides to a story," Vijayan said.
The best thing would be to allow women to be outside their hostel rooms, but inside the campus, he said.
"Give students a safe environment, most of them would be happy."
Lady Shri Ram College
The hostel rules seem to be refreshingly simpler. Hostel president and 3rd year journalism student Sayantani Mustafi said, "We have it much better in comparison to other DU colleges. We are allowed to take late nights and nights out several times a week."
While the deadline is 7:30 pm, students are allowed to step out of the hostel and stay out till 10:00 pm. Mustafi says there is a hostel card that the warden needs to sign, "but that's just for record".
"I stay in the hostel, and I am allowed to wear anything and everything I want. We have never been pulled up for our clothes. I have been to other DU colleges, and I see the difference."
For nights out, only 1st year students need permission from their local guardians, but 2nd and 3rd year students just need to inform the warden. "No permission is needed," Mustafi said.
LSR seems to be much more liberal even in terms of dress code. Mustafi said: "I stay in the hostel, and I am allowed to wear anything and everything I want. We have never been pulled up for our clothes. I have been to other DU colleges, and I see the difference."
Criticising the incident at BHU, Mrinal Chatterjee, professor at IIMC-Dhenkanal, said: "We have the same timing for girls and boys — 9:30pm."
Campuses need to be made safer for women and men alike, he said. "Whatever steps possible should taken to ensure there is safety for students. Proper security and lighting should be there."
Perhaps that should be food for thought for colleges authorities to make an effort to sensitize male students and improve security on campus for a healthier solution instead of curbing the freedom of women.