New Delhi: University hostels across India have different rules for men and women – ranging from curfews and dress codes to other disciplinary regulations. Several movements have come up recently to counter these biases, the most well-known of which is Pinjra Tod in Delhi.
In response to a report submitted by Pinjra Tod on the conditions of female hostellers and complaints about the restrictions imposed on them, the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) has issued notice to all 23 registered universities in Delhi, asking them to answer several questions including the number of students in hostel disaggregated by gender, a separate similar list of students with disabilities, the entry and exit time restrictions in the hostel (with reasons if there are differences in timings based in gender and the penalties on violating these times) and the annual hostel fees charged disaggregated by gender.
A similar notice had been sent by the DCW to Jamia Milia Islamia in August last year after receiving complaints on the differential rules for male and female students. The university has still not responded to the notice.
“Despite the DCW notice to Jamia last August, the same discrimination exists even today,” said Subhashini from Pinjra Tod at a press conference organised in Delhi on April 9. “The rules on paper are different for men and women, and on top of that the applied rules are even more different. Libraries and labs often stay open well past the curfew times for girls. Are you then saying that you are keeping these open only for the male students? Do universities want to penalise us for being girls?”
Members of Pinjra Tod were pleased with DCW’s action. “This is the first time a government authority has recognised this discrimination on a scale like this,” Subhashini added. “And universities must respond to it seriously. If they don’t take DCW seriously, it means they don’t take gender parity seriously.”
“DCW holds the powers of a civil court,” said Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy. “Universities have no option but to respond to this notice and make their position clear.”
Speakers at the press conference also congratulated Pinjra Tod on their efforts, reiterating the importance of equal spaces for women. “Constitutional rights need to be claimed,” Nundy said, “and that is what Pinjra Tod is doing. The differences they have highlighted are shocking – for instance, women students have to pay 30,000 rupees more than their male counterparts in some hostels!”
“Hostels have to stop acting like a transit between fathers and husband,” added Uma Chakravarti, a feminist historian who used to teach at Miranda House college. “We have just created structures of policing and control to lock up women.”
“Patriarchal solutions like curfews won’t change the gender issues our society has. Studies have shown that a majority of rapes and molestations are carried out by people known to the victim – family members, neighbours, acquaintances. These incidents happen at all times of the day, curfews are not the answer. Universities need to give us an alternative,” said Abha Dev Habib, a teacher at Miranda House.
“Many families agree to send their daughters to college because there are hostels,” added Neha Dixit, journalist and guest faculty at Jamia Milia Islamia. “Hostels need to be designed such that they enhance women’s participation in public spaces, not limit it. In addition, the changes that Pinjra Tod is proposing need to be expanded to cover private paying-guest hostels as well, where the regulations are currently very similar to those in university hostels, sometimes every stricter.”
The DCW has given universities 15 days to respond to its notice, including providing all the information they have asked for. According to the notice, DCW plans to complete its enquiry into the matter before the next academic session begins in July. How universities respond and whether this move leads to any on-ground changes remains to be seen.