I would always meet my friends an hour before my hostel’s 10:30 pm curfew. We’d hang out on campus, discussing all sorts of things – from Syrian refugees to whether or not Spongebob Squarepants was really square. At 10:28 pm, I’d realise I’d have to run to make it back to my hostel before the gates were locked. I would anxiously sprint home; a minute later than 10:30 pm and a “show-cause” would be slapped across my academic record. If I was wearing shorts when I got there, my mother’s parenting skills would be questioned as well.
The next day, I would see my male friends in class. They would tell me about how, at midnight, they’d gone back to the same spot I’d run from. They would tell me how beautiful the starry night was, how cool the air felt.
I never got to experience these things until September 27, when Hidayatullah National Law University’s entire girls’ hostel decided it had had enough of these gendered curfew timings and took over the campus in protest. Eventually, the male students joined our protest and a student body famous for the tagline “light lo”, found the courage to stand up to its college’s administration and demand equality, safety, transparency and access to its own campus.
This frustration, suppressed by fear and complacency, isn’t unique to HNLU. The recent events at Panjab University illustrate the ways in which academic institutions across India have ignored the basic rights of women. These institutions have used vague claims about morality and safety to justify the essential caging of women for decades. Women shouldn’t study in libraries past 10 pm – they only go there to gossip; women shouldn’t roam around campus after curfew – they only want to drink, smoke and, to quote the former Supreme court judge Markandey Katju, “do naughty things with boys”; women shouldn’t wear shorts to class – the male faculty might get distracted. The list is endless. Professors, administrative officers and wardens continue to morally police adult women. Despite the UGC mandate that prevents discrimination when it comes to “in-timings”, regulations are flouted by colleges that prefer to disregard basic human rights.
College is home for a pretty significant phase of our lives. We shouldn’t have to live those years in fear. Women, too, should be allowed to pull all-nighters in the library one day before our exams. We should be allowed to gorge ourselves on oily dhaba food at 4 am, to aimlessly walk around campus, just because we can. Our reasons aren’t solely academic, and we needn’t justify them. We also deserve to have fun in college. We deserve to live our version of the Bollywood movies that glorify the male college life experience. This patriarchal system of keeping women locked up not only impacts our academic records and aspirations but is also detrimental to our mental health.
We deserve more than a sidelined existence in colleges and we must claim it.
The protest in HNLU continued for a week and ended with our in-timings being extended to 3 am. Just four days after the extension, I sit under the starry night, feel the cool midnight air and type out this article. In the hope that the revolution at Punjab University and other academic institutions around the country will yield similar results. I hope that women across India are able to break their cages and feel this freedom. Although it seems terrifying to speak up against those who have the power to jeopardise your career, the power of the unequivocal voice of a student body is unmatched.
Apne darr ko chodd, pinjra tod, pinjra tod! (Let go of your fear, break your cage, break your cage!)
Aabha Dixit is a student at Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.
Featured image credit: Facebook/Pinjra Tod: Break the Hostel Locks