One of the women's hostels at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT-Delhi), has put up a circular ahead of the annual House Day asking students to wear "a full covered decent western or Indian dresses (sic)" for the occasion.
A photograph of the notice, which was issued on 16 April, was shared on its Facebook page on Tuesday by Pinja Tod, which describes itself as "an autonomous collective effort to ensure secure, affordable and not gender-discriminatory accommodation for women students across Delhi".
House Day is an annual event at IIT-Delhi when the residents of its hostels may invite guests from outside the campus for an hour to their premises. This year it is scheduled to be observed on 20 April. The circular, which has the phrase "on House Day" written out with pen at the end, is meant to warn women against the possible perils from visitors in a city like Delhi but oversteps its remit by a mile. As the Pinjra Tod post put it, "Why do our administrators feel this desperate need to police women wear?" The Dean of student affairs is yet to comment on the circular.
Educational institutions in India are not unknown to practise their own distinctive forms of moral policing, putting restrictions on the attire worn by their students and faculty. St Xavier's College, Mumbai, last year forbade students from wearing ripped jeans on campus. Another premier institution, Delhi's Hindu College, had also introduced a dress code for women students last year. According to its prospectus, "Residents are expected to dress in a manner that is the normal norm in the society while visiting the dining hall, visitor's room and other common spaces in the hostel or the college." Women students at IIT-Delhi speaking to the Hindustan Times said such instructions are fairly common at the hostels, though usually delivered verbally. However, no one pays much attention to these rules, nor are they penalised for not following them.
Across India, colleges and universities are in the habit of stipulating rules of decency that may infringe on an individual's freedom to wear, eat or speak according to their wish in public. Coming from the IIT-Delhi, such a move is especially regressive as well as ironic. Just days ago the IITs decided to reserve 14% seats for women students from the 2018 session to increase their presence in their campuses and to address the gender imbalance in the sciences. The supernumerary quota will reserve up to 20% seats for women year to year in a phased manner. At present only 8% students at the IITs are women.
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