On International Women’s Day, students organised under the banner of Pinjra Tod and marched to Shastri Bhawan to demand a personal apology from the union minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi.
Gandhi had remarked about the need to draw a lakshman rekha by imposing hostel curfews to keep women safe. She reportedly agreed with the restrictions imposed on girls in hostels saying, “It really is for your own safety.”
“When you are 16 or 17 you are also hormonally very challenged. So to protect you from your own hormonal outbursts, perhaps a lakshman rekha is drawn,” she said.
The female students in DU have been running campaigns like ‘Pinjra Tod’ to protest against such discriminatory rules in hostels which prevent girls from going out of hostels after an allotted time. After Maneka Gandhi’s statement surfaced, the students took out a march and wrote a letter to the minister which has been reproduced here.
Dear Mrs Maneka Gandhi,
In response to your recent piece of advice for the media and society, we wish to say, Madam, please look up ‘Women Student Protest’ on Google or read about it in the newspapers and you will find in detail, opinions of hundreds of female students expressed in several different languages.
A couple of days ago, images were flashing across news channels and social media of women participating in large numbers in a Delhi University movement. Messages were also posted in solidarity with students of Mumbai University for carrying out a successful movement. In Benaras Hindu University, another movement of female students has been causing a stir.
This International Women’s Day, just as we were enthusiastically preparing to celebrate the tiny but significant change in the attitude towards feminism and the arguments given against freedom of women, your comments have pushed us back to the Ramayana stories of our childhood; to a time when a Lakshman Rekha marked our boundaries for us. Your remarks have once again reminded us that despite our fragmentary success we are still living in a patriarchal society segmented into castes and classes and our thoughts and rights are still regulated by those in power.
Madam, you are the Minister for Women and Child Development in a government which speaks of development of women in its various campaigns like ‘Women Empowerment’, ‘Selfie with daughter’, and ‘Make in India’. Your statement truly defines this ‘development’.
Respected minister, the anger which has forced female students across cities to protest on the streets is not the result of our ‘hormones’ but your discriminatory mentality. Cast aside your anxious determination to maintain the ‘purity of race’ for which you have constructed boundaries because the movement of Dalit students and dialogue is also gaining momentum across colleges.
As far as ‘security’ is concerned, the roads were not safe for us when we were locked in our hostels and PG accomodations; when the few women who dared to venture out could not embrace their freedom. The roads are safer now with women everywhere. Streetlights shine upon us as there is no place dark.
You were right about one thing but you put it in the ugliest way. You said, women’s safety cannot be ensured by deploying ‘two Bihari security guards with sticks’ at colleges. You are right. Women cannot get their freedom from being locked up and guarded by security men whether it is two or ten in number; Bihari, Tamil, Punjabi, from your very own Delhi or from any other state of this country. But your insulting comment made it clear that neither do you respect female students, nor the economically and socially backward regions of your country, nor those doing hard manual labour.
The administration regularly pits the labour class against students in universities. But, in fact, they too are victims of this discriminatory system like us. Our rising college fees and their deducted wages, both are a result of your government’s education budget cuts.
Up till now, you celebrated March 8 just for the sake of it by giving women leave, by handing us bouquets and at least for one day ‘respect’ for women was given a thought. But perhaps now your mentality has become bound by that very lakshman rekha.
Don’t forget that the university for which you issued this conservative statute has its foundation in Savitri Bai’s challenge to the caste and class system of a patriarchal society. The participation of women in education is a powerful movement based on such a long-drawn and mighty struggle. The cages of your narrow thinking cannot withhold us. Do and say whatever you want, we will break the cages and turn the pages of history.
(Pinjra Tod is a Delhi-wide students campaign struggling to make complete participation of women possible in higher education.)
Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman.