One of the most stringent forms of providing “safety” for women is by placing harsh curfews in girls’ hostels. Locking up women inside hostels and applying ridiculous curfews are still part of the equation in the name of protection. Pinjra Tod is helping such women achieve their freedom.

Regressive Rules and Policing Women: The Unchanging Narrative.

Sukanya Pant is currently in her second year at Lady Shri Ram College, pursuing English Honours. She plays basketball, sings and dances as well. Women’s issues are something she feels really strongly towards and hopes to see the day when we live in an equal society. 

In 2020, we would like to believe that society is making leaps and bounds of improvement towards women empowerment. Steps towards equal pay, curbing sexual harassment, or women’s representation in offices of power. But, the sad truth is that even in 2020, not much progress has been made. 

This is especially true of women’s safety, which still remains a huge failure on the part of all governments. Instead of installing better safety features, women are still being victim-blamed for crimes against them, and their freedom is being curbed by policing their behaviour. 

In “urban, educated, metropolitan” cities as well, the surveillance of women is constant and unyielding. Most college-going girls have heard their parents bombarding them with instructions about how to dress and act when going out, who to go out with, and how to behave, which starts from a very young age. The first schools for girls were set up by Christian missionaries in 1818, but despite being able to be educated for centuries, attitudes regarding women living outside their homes to pursue their studies still haven’t changed. 

One of the most stringent forms of providing “safety” for women is by placing harsh curfews in girls’ hostels. Locking up women inside hostels, policing their comings and goings, and applying ridiculous curfews are still part of the equation in the name of protection.

In hostels throughout the country, discriminating hostel curfews for boys and girls still persist. Men enjoy late curfews, or all night open gates, whereas gates for women hostels are shut as soon as the sun goes down. This is done under the garb of providing women with protection, but in reality, is just a thinly veiled regression to curb the freedom of self-reliant women. 

In the capital of the country, things aren’t any different. The Lady Shri Ram College for Women in Delhi has a curfew of 7:30 PM when the hotel gates are closed without any exceptions. Talking about a personal experience, an unnamed student from the college said, “We have two types of passes: a Late Night pass and a Night-Out pass, that we have to get signed by the warden at a given time. On this particular day, I was out for a competition for which I had taken a Late Night pass, which is applicable till 10:30 PM. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the competition was delayed, and so I contacted the warden and pleaded with her to give me a Night-Out pass. But she denied my request. It was a genuine emergency, but no one understood, nobody cut me any slack. And then I was gated-in, for 14 days, because I couldn’t reach back before 10:30 for a college society related reason. Thankfully, I explained my situation the next day and the warden reduced the number of days to seven, but it is still extremely inconvenient and problematic.” This is not an isolated incident. A senior, who had a medical emergency, couldn’t reach back to the hostel in time and was gated in despite having her medical papers with her. To be gated-in entails the student not being allowed to move anywhere outside the college for a total of 14 days. 

However, there is a tiny ray of sunshine in all this bleakness. Pinjra Tod is a women’s organisation that started in 2015. They aim to fight such regressive rules in hostels and paying guest accommodations as well as other injustices that women face. Pinjra Tod was founded by women from Jamia Milia Islamia University to challenge the authoritative curfews placed only on the women’s hostel. Pinjra Tod has been instrumental in fighting for women’s rights in various colleges across the capital. Following protests by Pinjra Tod, the University Grants Commission (UGC) published a letter in The Gazette about the prevention, prohibition, and redressal of sexual harassment of women. They have also, directly or indirectly, helped relax hostel curfews in colleges such as the Regional Insitute of Education (RIE) Bhopal, Mumbai University, IIT Roorkee, and several others. The practice of unreasonable gate timings has been under fire for several years now. Some universities have, after protesting and challenging the authority, claimed their right to equal freedom as the males. But for most other hostels, the story is not the same. 

The solution for safety cannot be limiting women to the four walls inside their college dorms. Irrational hostel curfews do much more harm than good. Women need to be empowered and not punished for being made confident and brave. Placing restrictive rules on women just strengthens the hold of authority, usually male, on the freedom of women. Women, like men, deserve a fair educational experience, which isn’t limited to only a classroom. Rather than policing women and their behaviours, which consequently leads to a culture of victim-blaming, a system needs to be set in place, that empowers women to be free in public and not afraid of their surroundings. Sexual harassment training in workplaces and classrooms, better lighting around campus, more CCTV cameras, these are some steps that need to be taken for reducing the incidence of violence against women. Men need to be given sensitivity training since childhood and need to be made accountable for their actions. Policing women for atrocities against women, cannot be called the answer. It is just a limiting, traditional, desultory trick to keep women under the control of the patriarchy. 

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