Adds her classmate Swati Borude, “If we laugh with our male classmates, they scold us and threaten to take away our IDs. We are often told that there is no difference between men and women and that women are at par with men.Then what is this? We also don’t have a single festival or themed day on campus as they think we will get distracted.It’s very unfair.“
When questioned, canteen manager Maruti says he’s only following instructions. “I’ve been told by Madam to ensure that the rope is there. I don’t know why this has happened as nothing untoward as such has happened,“ he says.
Students of the college are also distraught over a proposed uniform change to replace the college’s current shirt-pants uniform to salwar kameez and two plaits for the girls. “We do not want a change in the current uniform as we have to commute from so far. I come from Thane and managing a salwar kurta and dupatta in the train will be so tough,“ frets Nisha Mehta. Adds her friend Nitika, “I have curly hair, how am I supposed to tie it in plaits? It won’t stay.“
WHAT THE BIZARRE `SEPARATE SEATING’ IS ALL ABOUT’
The college authorities of this polytechnic college at Kherwadi recently demarcated sections in their canteen and used ropes to indicate a separate seating area for girls.This, they claim, is a bid to curb sexual harassment on the premises.
Principal Swati Deshpande says she has her own reasons for taking the step. “We have been facing a lot of harassment from outside as the canteen is also shared by 13 state government offices and two central government offices. So, at any given point, there are many people here. There have been complaints of disturbance of former students and others taking up tables and leaving the girls with no place to eat. We were finding it tough to control matters. Besides, this rule is applicable for only that half-anhour break in the canteen.What’s the big deal about it since the students are together everywhere else?“ she counter-questions.
When pointed that a move like that still amounts to discrimination, she says, “Yes, it may be discrimination by making both genders sit separately , but what else to do?
Also, it’s just a rope, we have not put a partition. Other col leges also do this. I’m sure this will curb harassment.“
Clearly , segregation is not the only thing, there’s more.Deshpande also plans to introduce a `suitable’ uniform for girl students, who currently sport the same white-shirtand-black-trousers like the male students. She would like something that `fits in’ with their psychological makeup.“Students want a change in uniform,“ she defends. And what will the new uniform be? “We have not decided yet as we have to discuss matters with faculty members and student members,“ she says.
*Names of students have been changed to protect their identities
`IT CAN CREATE A DANGEROUS MINDSET’
Clinical psychologist Varkha Chulani warns that a gender segregation diktat like that can have a wrong effect on impressionable minds. “Education is about changing attitudes towards gender discrimination and such stereotypes, but rules like these propagate a regressive philosophy .Remember, students are young minds; they will become more exclusive and wary instead of being inclusive. Girls may look upon men as a threat. It will foster fear. And fear is always learnt; we are not born with it. A thought becomes a mindset and that is dangerous. This generation, being subjected to such control, will go back to a prehistoric mindset. These are the same students who will go out into the world to work. Will they have the ability to develop interpersonal relationships effectively? On one hand, we are looking at female empowerment and on the other, we are putting such strictures, which is wrong. Instead of tying ropes and such barriers, why not educate and talk to students and others? Let parents give stringent guidelines to their kids at home. Why not put up notices on the campus with strict consequences? Impose a penalty on students rather than restrict them,“ she says.
To understand how deep-rooted the problem of sexism and patriarchy is in India, one only needs to look at its education system.
It is highly ironic that some educational institutions, which are supposed to impart knowledge, become centres of childish logic and moral policing and directly or indirectly encourage sexism.
And the Government Polytechnic College in Mumbai has made sure everyone notices this bad habit of institutions is still very much present. A report in The Times of India said that the college has demarcated different sections using ropes for men and women in the college canteen.
Swati Deshpande, the principal, has said that this step was taken because “former students enter the campus and create a ruckus in the canteen, they misbehave with girls. In fact, one such incident had to be reported to police in October.”
Making sure that we find out the full extent of her ignorance, Deshpande also told The Times of India that she thought girls suffer from Poly Cystic Ovarian Diseases (PCODs) because they “dress like men”, which leads to “a gender role reversal” in their minds.
The principal of a vocational institute in Mumbai — one of the most developed cities in India — believes that a disease clearly linked with hormonal imbalance is actually caused by some magical changes which take place in girls’ brains when they “dress like men”.
That is how pathetic the state of gender equality is in India.
But the events at the Mumbai college are (unfortunately) not shocking. Because many other institutions have engaged in similar practices. Denying the students from the Women’s College access to the Maulana Azad Library in Aligarh Muslim University, its vice-chancellor Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah had said in 2014 that if girls were allowed, there would be “four times more boys” in the library.
In 2015, Farook College in Kozhikode, Kerala suspended a student who protested against the management’s decision to crack down on boys and girls sitting next to each other.
Such ‘measures’ have been part of the Indian education system for a long time, despite the fact that a report by the University Grants Commission (UGC) has said that “the provision of safety for women on campuses must eschew the practice or tendency to be overly prescriptive to women by restricting their freedom of movement.”
“Concern for the safety of all women, but particularly young women students should not lead to discriminatory rules for women in the hostels. The attitude to women’s safety in hostels often infantilizes these adult women and does not empower them to learn to strategize about their own safety. Most importantly the focus would have to shift to ensuring a safe environment around the hostel and campus,” says the UGC report titled ‘Measures for Ensuring the Safety of Women and Programmes for Gender Sensitization‘.
Gender segregation in institutes also puts the onus of sexual assault on the victim. It is tiring and frustrating to keep pointing out the blatant flaw in this point of view over and over again and see no or very few results.
Instead of coming up with ridiculous dress codes for women and separating men and women in the canteen, the institute should have taken steps to ensure that strict action is always taken against sexual assault culprits. By the way, separating men and women in the canteen will not in any way prevent “former students” — who allegedly sexually assault girl students — from entering the campus.
It would also be ignorant and naive to assume that gender segregation in college campuses has nothing to do with the taboo associated with sex.
Authorities often assume that the best way to prevent sexual assault is to prevent any interaction taking place between the two sexes in the first place. But the lack of interaction with the opposite sex just leads to sexual frustration and ignorance about sex and the other gender, ironically leading to more sexual assaults.
In fact, a report by the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR) said that a World Health Organisation study showed that proper sex education (which can never be fully imparted without allowing healthy interaction with the opposite sex) delays the onset of sexual activity and encourages safe sexual activity.
It is important that we treat teenage students more like adults rather than children who must be ‘protected’ from the concept of sex and, more importantly, consent.