Dil Hai Chhota Sa Chhoti Si Asha
Infantilization of Women in J&K’s Colleges and Universities
September 2015. Students at institutions throughout Delhi were welcomed by bold, colourful words strewn across their campuses. The words were Pinjra Tod. Meaning – Break the cage.
Pinjra Tod, which began as a Facebook group, gained traction after a minority institution, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), issued a circular barring the female students from being out at night. Pinjra Tod became an autonomous student-run collective effort from Delhi University (DU), JMI, Ambedkar University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
University women flocked to the streets to protest unjust limits on their mobility. In the name of concerns, girls rejected moral policing and opted not to be taught how they should handle themselves. Countless women took to social media to relate their painful experiences of being infantilized – being treated as infants. This included moral policing, discrimination by guards, wardens, and principals – all in the name of gender.
In November 2015, the women submitted a 45-page report to Delhi Commission of Women (DCW). Within days, DCW sent a letter to JMI, contesting the legality of the ban. This was the movement’s first success in refusing to be infantilized by the government once more.
Women Claiming Their Space In A Misogynist Society
Women claiming their space and fighting for their freedom in a misogynist society – this definitely gets me going. I have often encountered people in the mainland assuming that Kashmiri women don’t care for these freedoms and also assuming that Kashmiri women don’t have a voice. It is amusing that we women face infantilization not just within Jammu and Kashmir, but also in the way how Indians from the other states regard and stereotype us.
During the years of Pinjra Tod and also later, there were discussions on this subject in my friends circle. A section of women supported the restrictions on our freedom in the name of safety and security. Other women opposed it. They said these restrictions meant that we women don’t have a mind to decide what is right or wrong for us, and hence the society must supposedly control us all the time.
Kashmir University – Hostellers Faced Similar Restrictions
The women empowerment movements in India and worldwide – I am inspired by them. During the time when the Pinjra Tod movement was happening in Delhi, I enrolled in Kashmir University for LLM (Master of Law). I had just moved into the hostel premises. The gates of the hostel would close at 6 pm. One could not imagine going out in the campus thereafter.
If you told the gatekeepers you wanted to return to the hostel after 6 pm, they would shout demeaning words. If you argued, God fobid, then the threat followed – We are going to call your parents! Here I was at the university – doing Master in Law, but being treated like a child who had to be locked up in a hostel at 6 pm. Many women studying there were baffled by this attitude of closing access to the university library, the playgrounds and other common areas so early. Other women took it for granted. To each her own.
In The Dining Hall – No Trouser And Shirt, No Earphones
When I entered the dining hall in my hostel at Kashmir University for the first time, the caretaker asked me, “Why are you wearing trouser and shirt? It is not allowed. Didn’t you see the notice on the wall?”
I was amazed to see that there was really a notice to this effect. It said: “Boarders are not allowed to wear night suits or shirts in the dining halls and they should not wear any earphones in the dining halls.” Imagine the infantilization of women that they could not wear trousers and shirt in the dining hall, and not use earphones.
I asked my classfellows who stayed in the boys hostel whether there were such restrictions in their hostel too. They laughed and said there were no such restrictions. I guess all rules are meant only for women.
All Rules Are For Women Only
This reminds me of what a senior friend told me about the time she was doing Masters in English at Jammu University. All girls were supposed to be in the hostel by perhaps 7 pm. One day in the department, she curiously asked a youth studying with her whether they too were locked up in the hostel by that time. “The young man laughed so hard! Even after several minutes, he wouldn’t stop laughing! He was so tickled by the thought that boys could be locked up at any time! And with girls, it was taken for granted. Nobody questioned it,” recalled my friend.
So this has been happening for decades. All rules are only for women. That’s the way a patriarchal society works. Now I am a PhD scholar at Jammu University. I enjoy more freedom than I did at KU, but Jammu University also has some discriminatory rules for female students. There still are hostel timings for women. So even if access to the library is 24X7, it means nothing for women.
I Know I Shall Be Judged For Asking These Questions
I know that a lot of readers will be scandalized that I am even questioning it. They will judge me wrongly even for questioning the locking up of women scholars in the hostel in the evening.
I know what the varsity authorities will say, if they read this write-up. They will say – No. The women are not locked up. Only their movement is restrained. The varsity authorities will say – Restrictions are imposed on the demand of the parents. If we don’t do it, the parents will object that why have you allowed what we don’t allow at home? Do we allow our daughters to go out at night? Then why have you allowed it?
I am reminded of a very well-reasoned write-up I read in Outlook magazine when I was doing some online reading on the infantilization of women scholars in institutions of higher learning. The writeup is by Sohinee Roy, Associate Professor at North Central College, Illinois, USA. Sohinee writes on the very South Asian practice of adult students seen as children: Such a myopic view of education forgets that institutions of higher education are involved in the very adult endeavor of producing knowledge. Production of knowledge involves more than regurgitation of information in exams. It requires critical thinking, ability to synthesize complex ideas, and imagine possibilities and connections where none exist. It requires education beyond the undergraduate degree.
This is the point I am trying to make. Are our institutions of higher learning grasping that they have to produce scholars who are equipped with all this: “critical thinking, ability to synthesize complex ideas, and imagine possibilities and connections where none exist”. Where a woman cannot be given the responsibility of her choices, what kind of critical thinking or the ability to synthesize complex ideas do we expect?
Common Assumption: Late Nights For Women Mean Unbridled Times
A senior woman journalist who had worked in a reputed media house for many years told me of an experience in Srinagar. She said that in 2015, she was conversing with a young journalist of Rising Kashmir about media working in the valley.
The young man had about three to four years of experience at that time. He told her that though there was presence of women in Kashmir media, they did not have any night shifts. The journo then asked her, “Did you have any night shifts?” She told him that night shifts for the entire staff were put on the roster on and off.
The journo told her, “So you all would have been making it out every night when you were in the office on night duty.” The senior woman journalist was shocked at this bizarre assumption. “What rubbish!” she told the man. “What crazy ideas you have!” But the young Kashmiri would not budge. He was convinced that night duty in a media office meant unbridled times for the men and women. When even our educated men like journos live with these assumptions, it is not surprising that woman shall be judged for anything they want to say outside the accepted norms.
More in the next edition.