This is a guest post by AKASH BHATTACHARYA
#Pinjratod! Break the Cages! A word, rather mysterious in its appearance, has announced its presence across university campuses in Delhi. The movement has gathered steam in a short period of time, attracting media attention and gaining currency over social media. Pinjratod has touched a raw nerve, venting the anger of a new generation of students – mostly female but also male – about the forms of controlled learning in higher educational spaces. The students, in turn, are articulating the democratic futures they imagine for themselves and for society as a whole.
Spearheaded by a few female students and alumni of the Delhi University, Pinjratod calls itself an “autonomous collective effort” to ensure “secure, affordable, and not gender-discriminatory accommodation” for women students across Delhi. In denying the same, the women argue, the university authorities incapacitate female students from making the most of higher education, where their presence itself is a product of long and uncompromising struggles. They step out of the family home only to be locked up in hostels with the in-time sometime as early as 7 pm and any relaxation of the same requiring the permission of parents or local guardians. In hostels as well college campuses they are subject to rampant moral policing. In colleges women are left vulnerable by the lack of mechanism to prevent/address sexual harassment. Instead college and hostel authorities impose severe restrictions on women’s freedom to “protect” them from possible harassment. The cages of protectionism, that promises safety at the cost of liberty stunt the capacities of women and prevent them from fighting their own battles. These are the cages the women of Pinjratod want to break free from; the social attitudes caged by sexism, they want to destroy.
Pinjratod further suggests that the segregation and segmentation of the student community along gender lines is no one-off issue; it is a metaphor for the nature of controlled learning in present-day higher education. The recent “Guidelines on Safety of Students on and off Campuses of Higher Educational Institutions” proposed by the University Grants Commission (UGC), which seek to encircle hostels with barbed wire fences and implant police chowki-s inside college campuses, basically converts the entire university into women’s hostels, the women argue. The movement also comes hot on the heels of protests by students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, and Jadavpur University, Kolkata, making a statement, in solidarity with them, in favour of resistance and opposition as legitimate forms of democratic life. The slick, silken interplay of three registers: the woman, the student and the citizen, endow the movement with enormous democratic potential at a time when the democratic possibilities embodied in all three categories are under attack from an aggressive Hindutva-Development complex.
Women, belonging to public universities, are presently under attack as women, students and citizens, placing them in a unique position to strike back on all three fronts. Neo-liberal globalization masquerading as development has created massive anxieties regarding social cohesion in times of large-scale labour mobility. Hindutva has become yet another term for controlling women’s bodies and sexualities for the sake of preserving social cohesion; “culture” being the key mediating concept. With women steadily breaking the familial cages and stepping out into new spaces of learning and work, the College Principal-Hostel Warden-Landlord nexus has become central to minimizing the social impact of women’s autonomy. With the threat of women’s freedom looming large, the state’s fear of the citizen is aggravated when the voice is that of women. No wonder adult women are kept caged in “girls’ hostels”.
The woman in the university is a threat to the administration and the state also as a “student”, who has increasingly been seen as a passive consumer in the pay-and-use model of education. Characterized by sky-high fees and uncertain employment prospects, hundreds of private colleges and universities founded since liberalization have been the laboratories of this model. New methods of controlling students have been perfected there: denial of the right to unionization of students, stringent hostel rules, massive surveillance, and widespread moral policing. The control has enabled the private education sector to thrive despite its essential disadvantages: the devaluation of degrees, insufficient return on educational investment on the part of the student and lack of quality employment. Private college campuses witness sporadic but widespread rioting during the campus placement season.
As the state moves towards converting public universities into pay-and-use institutions, the logic of control honed in the private sector is merely being transferred to the public university. The aforementioned UGC guidelines on the safety of students in institutions of higher education are a clear indication of the same. Students of the public university, having known hard-earned freedoms, are however refusing to be locked up into newer cages. Women, already facing discrimination by a “culture” anxious of being washed away, are facing the prospects of a double blow. Yet they are also more battle-hardened by the incessant discrimination they have faced ever since they won the battle to enter public universities. They make themselves heard by breaking out of the already-existing cages.
Key to the cage-breaking act is the sustenance of Pinjratod as a “movement” that not merely demands but claims. It has claimed spaces through a series of activities across the city including poster-making exercises, graffiti and by campaigning in person as well as through Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter. The ‘movemental’ nature of Pinjartod allows it to reclaim the student as a political category, as someone eager to evaluate what is taught in the light of his/her own experiences ask questions of the pedagogues. Many women have pointed to the sharp contrast between feminist discourses taught in class and the sexism that is unapologetically widespread within the educational spaces. On the night of 8 October, around 150 students, largely females, marched across the Delhi University campus, so notorious for being “unsafe”, to reclaim it as theirs. The march was a statement: that locking up the women, blaming the victim, for the crimes perpetrated on them, is no way of making the city safe.
The marchers camped in front of Miranda House (which they were not allowed to enter), outside a hostel in Ramjas College where a successful struggle against hostel curfews had been launched in 2007. They marched into St. Stephen’s College, where heavy repression was unleashed on students protesting against gender discriminatory hostel in-times in 2012-13; where the men-in-power openly ask: men and women are like eggs and stones, like apples and oranges, how can they be equal? As they marched along the “unsafe” streets of Vijay Nagar, meandering along roads lines with hostels (read cages), men hooted from the balconies and stalked them on motorbikes. Yet no one was harmed because they had successfully claimed the streets as theirs.
The autonomous character of Pinjratod is significant in sustaining it as a movement. Students across the political spectrum have participated in it enthusiastically. It was a female member of the ABVP who took the lead in filing an FIR against an ABVP cadre for threatening and abusing a Pinjratod activist for daring to put up posters in a place supposedly earmarked for the ABVP in the Delhi University. Autonomy has enabled the movement to embody the political aspirations of many, women in particular, whose voices have been silenced by the regimented and bureaucratic forms of student politics, especially in its aggressive and violent form in Delhi. The poster-making sessions and campaigns have become focal points for deliberation on its strategies, as has a Whatsapp group of over a hundred women, thereby evading the watchful, threatening eyes of the College Principal-Hostel Warden-Landlord nexus. In turn, autonomy has allowed the movement to highlight the insufficiency of existing political practices and vocabularies in voicing its concerns and aspirations.
As the next step, welcoming the Delhi Commission for Women’s (DCW) positive intervention in Jamia Milia Islamia against its administration’s recent directive barring female students of its hostels from taking permission for returning after 8 pm, Pinjratod wishes to submit a charter of demands to the DCW. Pinjratod is organizing a public hearing (jan sunwai), to be addressed by teachers, intellectuals, students and activists, leading up to the submission of the charter of demands. The public hearing will be held from 2 pm onwards at Jantar Mantar, TODAY on October 10, 2015. Pinjratod appeals to all democratically inclined citizens to come to the hearing in a show of protest and resistance against the state and university authorities that seek to strictly control and regulate how young adult women live, study, work, roam, love and desire in this city, and the country in general.
The PINJRA TOD Charter of Demands asks the DCW to take steps to:
- Extend the curfews of all women’s hostels and PGs till half an hour after the time any University resources, such as libraries, labs or sports complexes remain open or half an hour after the approach of the last metro at the closest metro station, whichever is later.
- Abolish the concept of local guardians for students, while keeping a provision for an emergency local contact number and discontinue requirement for parental or guardian’s permission for late nights or night outs for all students above 18 years of age.
- Abolish caps on night outs and late nights taken with prior notice, as the utilization of a night out or late night should not be dependent on the discretion of the warden or any administrative authority.
- Abolish arbitrary restrictions on the entry on female visitors into women’s hostels.
- Ensure availability of secure, non-discriminatory accommodation for all women students. Chart out and publicly announce time bound plan for construction of women’s hostels.
- Announce a list of PGs and private accommodations regulated by the university in nearby areas and make the list available to all students with the university administration and set up a mechanism for grievance-redressal with regard to such accommodation. Implement the Delhi Rent Control Act 1995 to regulate rising rents in these areas.
- Provide a clear breakup of the components of hostel fees, with a minimal infrastructural rent and maintenance cost beside the cost of food, electricity and water. Introduce provision for payment of hostel fees on a monthly basis rather than in a lump sum per semester or year.
- Set up Internal Complain’s Committees (ICC) against sexual harassment in all colleges and universities as elected, representative bodies and in the spirit of the Vishakha judgment and make provisions for anti-discrimination policy in accordance with the UGC Saksham Committee Report and Supreme Court’s NLSA judgment.
- Accommodate all People with Disabilities women students in university hostels on priority basis.
- Move towards need based allocation of hostel accommodation.
- Ensure fixed allotment of hostel seat for the entire period of the student’s course including academic vacations.
If you or anyone you know, has an experience to share as a testimonial at the Jan Sunwai, please do write to Pinjratod at firstname.lastname@example.org, or message on their Facebook (FB) account. Pinjratod is documenting and sharing every story and experience on their FB page, which they hope to ultimately compile into an exhaustive report on the issue.
If you are on FB and Twitter, please follow Pinjratod and share the FB event of the Jan Sunwai: FB page: https://www.facebook.com/pinjratod
Please consider signing the online petition to DCW and share it with others, if you haven’t already. https://www.change.org/p/swati-maliwal-chairperson-delhi-commission-for-women-break-the-hostel-locks-pinjratod-end-discriminatory-restrictions-on-women?rec
Pinjratod has compiled a documentary on recent struggles in the Delhi University against discriminatory hostel rules. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3YuHELgIJM&feature=youtu.be
Akash Bhattacharya is pursuing his PhD at CHS, JNU.