Punjabi University, Patiala is considered one of the premier institutions of higher education in Punjab but when it comes to developing or fostering a just, equal, and gender-friendly environment, its patriarchal character comes to the fore. This report tends to deal with the struggle led by Democratic Students Organization against hostel curfews and other associated problems faced by women students of the campus.
As a student organization, DSO has been struggling for students’ democratic rights for a long time in the campus, and this year, it started a campaign ‘Nights wants Locks, not Lights’ for creating an egalitarian campus, that should not discriminate on the basis of gender with anybody. Along with hostel timing of 6pm, women residents face patriarchal behavior and restrictions in the name of safety.
Since classes of science and engineering department end at 5:00 in the evening, women students have only one hour to do their errands before the hostel gates close. This leads to discrimination with them in other areas as well such as no access to library after 6pm, lack of reading rooms in hostels, imposition of showing I-cards and producing local guardian and guardian, illogical fines, limited guest entries, no access to other blocks within the hostel after 11pm, no arrangement for parking of two-wheelers, no female doctor to heed to their medical problems, no elections for choosing head girls and prefects, poor food quality, and no generators for lifts. Apart from these problems, women regularly face street harassment within the campus premises.
Therefore, considering these misogynist and gender-discriminatory practices, DSO started a campaign against them in the beginning of this semester. It organized a series of public meetings to form a demand charter based on the problems faced by students. Keeping the demands in mind, the organization organized a signature campaign for the cause in which over 2000 students participated, and submitted the demand charter to the university authority. Further, these activists enacted street play named ‘Jail Manual’ in different locations inside the campus to propagate the issue.
A month ago, the university authority called DSO for a meeting on the above mentioned demands in which the former did not agree to the demand of extending hostel timings. Moreover, the arguments placed by them were male chauvinist and patriarchal. Following such reaction, DSO organized a public meeting and burnt the effigy of university authorities. When these actions bore no results, the organization gave a call to occupy Vice Chancellor office on 9 November, 2016.
On the night of 9th, students carried out a march covering all the hostels to seek support from other students in which a huge number of women students participated in spite of the warnings given by hostel wardens. Displaying their insensitive attitude, Dean Additional, Provost, and all the wardens called up parents’ of women students who took part in the protest to threaten them and create a conflict between them and their parents. This action was a result of the belief that women cannot decide their mobility and their futures, thus, infantilizing them.
On the next day, Punjab Students Union (Lalkar) joined the protest and still supports the struggle. DSO campaigned in classes the next day and asked students to gather in front of VC office against their moves to threaten women students. At the same time, Dean Additional Girls called the organization and entrusted that they would not call up women’s parents or prevent women from participating in any protest.
However, when women students tried to come at the site on the night of 10th, Dean Students Welfare, Dean Additional Girls, Provost Girls, Senior Warden, Chief Security Officer, and five research scholars of Dean Students Welfare blocked them from joining the protest. Since it was a direct threat to the right to choice and mobility, women students broke the hostel gate of Mai Bhago Hostel to express solidarity, but the above mentioned officials threatened students. However, students marched along with DSO towards other hostels where women students broke their hostel gates and joined the march.
While around 200 women students were marching in the night, some male students used slangs against some of the activists, and an activist reacted against their misbehavior and asked the culprits to apologize. However, the latter held the activist by her hand, following which, women students beat them and pushed them away from the protest. DSO also informed the university authority but they took no notice of it. The next day i.e. on 11 November when authority called up the organization for a meeting, the latter demanded that the Dean Additional, Dean General, Chief Security Officer, and other officials take responsibility for what happened the previous night and resign from their respective posts. However, the above mentioned officials walked out of the room instead of resolving the issue.
On the same day at 7pm, DSO was informed that Dean Additional, Additional Provost, and one Senior Warden have resigned. However, the reason they stated was that students who went in the panel had misbehaved and used vulgar language against the authority. This was an insensitive and manipulative step to sabotage the struggle and defame the organization. However, at the same time, the officials did not make their resignations public; rather when students of Ambdekar Hostel tried to join the dharna at night on 11th; the officials reached the hostel and barred students from stepping outside.
The organization, on the other hand, responded to this attitude by continuing their protest. They condemned the fabricated reasons behind the resignation, but welcomed it since they considered the officials responsible for the incident of night 10th. The organization demands the authority to conduct a fair enquiry, by forming an independent committee which should include students as well. It demands the authority to scrap false charges from students and prove their credibility.
The struggle is still going on and there have been rumors that women activists would be rusticated. Constantly, the authority is trying to threaten women out of the way. Therefore, DSO gives call for solidarity from all democratic and progressive organizations. Two organizations of the campus, Student Federation of India and NET Pass Unemployed Students’ Organization have already expressed solidarity and the organization hopes democratic individuals and organizations to support the struggle.