It feels like I’ve been out for ages, judging by the reactions my presence has gotten. Wherever we went, at 9 pm, mind you, people gaped at us like we had three heads. We’ve overheard people whispering among themselves about whether they should come tell us off. We’ve had several people approach us boldly and actually do this, because in India, women have to be controlled, and we need men to tell us our place, of course.
I can think of countless examples like these. I’m sure you can too. Women in India are ingrained into following a culture of silence and shame. Be it in colleges or workplaces, hypocrisy abounds in curfews imposed on women. Though the issue has been prevalent for ages, very few substantial changes or developments have happened in our society.
Fighting all the odds and trying to bring a change in the way women are treated, Bhargavi Suryanarayanan and Vandana Venkatesh have started a campaign to empower women and curb gender discrimination. The former is an integrated MA student in Humanities at IIT Madras, and the latter is a graduate from National Law University, Delhi.
All this started when Bhargavi, along with her friends (all in their early twenties), attended a ‘college fest’ in Tamil Nadu. There were different curfews for girls and boys, and they felt it horribly unfair. When they protested, the Institution pushed back saying they had no right to question anything here because it was their institution, and their rules.
Their attempts to protest were surprisingly brushed aside and these girls went back feeling deeply angered and burning with a desire to do something about these rules. Curfews were not the only thing that upset them, even their attire raised eyebrows at these colleges.
Though it shouldn’t matter (for the record, they state that even a Victorian nun would have approved of their outfits) yet only a dupatta lends respectability in a few colleges, says Bhargavi.
It will be unfair if we assume women face discrimination only in colleges. Women all over India have all been told at some point that our clothes are distracting and that they must cover up. They have been asked to go inside after a certain time, to ensure their safety. Apparently the streets are safe for women as long as there are enough people walking about, especially other women. But on the contrary Men are never shut up inside to stop them from assaulting women. There are way too many instances like this to name and the list just goes on the gender disparity the Country is facingEven in my own family, I’ve been subjected to menstrual taboos. I’ve been subjected to the humiliation of being considered impure just because I was on my period. I’ve been banned from entering the kitchen or getting food or water for myself for three days of every month for the past decade. So I think this anger at these sexist rules have been simmering for a long time, says Bhargavi.
Adding to the discussion, Vandana says,
I would see subtle discrimination when it comes to my clothing, involvement in sports, or even stating opinions in a public gathering. While my experience with discrimination has been minor in comparison to what most women go through in India, one can’t deny that there is a systemic gender-based discrimination that exists in society
At the root of all this discontent and discrimination lies patriarchy. The mindset that women need to be locked up to ensure their safety is one theory that many subscribe to. The question is, what are we going to do about it? Are we going to keep quiet before authority or raise our voices and ask hard-hitting questions even when we’re not listened to? Or are we going to raise voice against these issues and stand up against the fundamental rights for women ?
What seems to be the best solution is to educate people by introducing gender-sensitivity training for both men and women is a good way to begin. Self-defense training must also become mainstream. The whole point is to empower women to take care of themselves, and not to shut them up.
Despite being at the receiving end of this cause, these girls opted for a very effective approach to deal with the problem rather than crib about it. By raising a small request on social media, the issue has brought about a huge impact. It has initiated a conversation among a lot of colleges in Tamil Nadu. Bhargavi’s post alone had over a thousand likes and an active comments thread where people discussed the need for gendered rules, and saw opinions from both sides of the spectrum. Some people have even messaged them with disagreements and offered constructive criticism. Many have appreciated their initiative, and offered detailed feedback on what experiencing these rules is like. Within a week, they had enough material to prepare a detailed report on the underlying issues and potential solutions for gendered rules in college campuses
They have received responses from across Tamil Nadu from colleges in Chennai, Trichy, Tanjore, Virudhunagar, Avadi, Sivakasi, Coimbatore, Salem, Vellore, Tiruchengode, and Melmaruvathur, among other places. From all the data gathered, they have now curated a thirty-page preliminary report. Once they have chalked out some basic demands, suggestions, and redressals in their report, based on the suggestions received from the students themselves, they plan to approach the National Commission for Women.
From Supreme Court’s judgment what these girls understand is that, it is a long shot but they hope to approach the HRD ministry, and college management, and find the best possible way to improvise the social status of women.
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The biggest hurdle is the implementation of these rules in private colleges where they stand resolute on the fact that these rules are a necessity for women’s safety.
The change in mindset, not only for campus management, but also parents who want these rules before sending their daughters there, is a giant obstacle. Some colleges also cite a lack of funds to hire security guards, and would prefer a strict curfew instead.
While getting colleges to amend their rules is a short-term goal, the bigger issue is about women claiming public spaces, and the issue of women’s safety as a whole. These girls have raised their voices against the rules that they find unfair, in whatever way they could. It’s only if people speak up that changes will happen in society. Taking it ahead they plan to petition the government to not give grants to colleges that have gendered rules while also petitioning the college to change their rules. Their grit and courage to raise a voice against it has been widely accepted.
Whether it is to join them, or to merely offer suggestions, they urge the public to do something about it and not suffer in silence.
If you wish to join the mission and support them, you can fill in this form.