In light of the recent Banaras Hindu University controversy comes to mind the question of moral policing and gender. Different in-times in college hostels for boys and girls show how the administration tries to morally police women. The fear of female autonomy and expression of sexuality is so deep; it makes colleges implement these sexist rules and guidelines in order to curb them.
Seemingly liberal colleges, where conversation around feminism and gender is never lulled, have restrictive hostel timings or a different in-time for boys and girls (not officially but in implementation). The in-time for Daulat Ram College’s hostel is 7:30 PM, for the Miranda House Hostel, is 8:30 PM, for the Rajiv Gandhi hostel for women, is 9:30 PM as is the Hindu College girls hostel. Timings for Men’s hostels are also somewhat similar but the difference is they are never really enforced. The Post-Graduate Men’s (PG Men’s) hostel for instance on its prospectus has an in-time of 10:40 PM but according to sources, the in-time is never followed. Srivedant Kar, a resident of PG Men’s hostel says that while the prospectus reads 10:30 PM, there really isn’t an applicable in-time there. He mentions that the PG Men’s hostel is “open 24*7”. A resident from Rajiv Gandhi Girls Hostel, who would like to stay anonymous, says “The in-time is 10:00 PM and it is strictly implemented”. Hindu College offers hostels to both boys and girls but here is how both are treated differently. According to Muhammad Daniyal Ubaidullah, a student of Hindu College “Boys’ in-time is hardly a reality, as in, it is not enforceable at all. Girls hostel is strictly around 10:30, I think”. Kirori Mal College (KMC) hostel’s in-time is 11:00 PM ( please note-three and a half hours later than DRC, two and a half hours later than Miranda). When I asked an acquaintance living there if the in-time was implemented his reply was “not really”.
Two people from a similar age group are allowed radically different levels of independence. So, if a girl gets back to the Daulat Ram College hostel at 8:00 PM instead of 7:30, she may have to go through disciplinary action, humiliation, and child-like admonishment but if he were a boy living in either the Hindu College boys hostel, KMC boys hostel or PG Men’s hostel, he would have the liberty to walk in as and when he pleased. This system which allows one eighteen-year-old boy to be out all night but expects another eighteen-year-old girl to inside the hostel premises by 7:30 PM sharp is shameful and sexist. It is these kinds of discriminatory laws that infantilise women. It reiterates that women are incapable of taking care of themselves and should be indoors before it gets dark.
The idea of a woman being out at 10:30 PM was apparently so threatening, so unsettling that administration nipped this problem in the bud itself. The radical difference between how boys and girls hostels are treated highlights a deeper problem. The underlying root of this form of strict discipline enforcement is moral policing. This moral policing stems from a) a fear of female independence and b) an attempt to control women and curb their decision-making power. If a university willingly chooses to limit the choices the women studying there can make, we have a problem at our hands.
Here is how these discriminatory timings play a greater role than they seem to have. Every time a girl needs to rush back to meet her 7:30 or 8:30 PM deadline while her male counterparts continue to be out, it reminds her of how societal perception of what girls should do and how they should behave has still not changed. This mould of a “good girl” that’s so aggressively marketed by college administrators, movie makers, and pop culture subconsciously affects us, one that is idolized, glorified, put on a pedestal if reinforced by these ridiculous timings. Those who choose to speak out and rebel are often problematically labelled as “feminazis” (casual usage of the word “Nazi” is insensitive).
Here is another dangerous idea which is behind these ridiculous in-timings, the idea that women will be “unsafe” at night and therefore need to be actively protected and locked indoors. It is this restrictive in-time that stops women from “reclaiming the streets” so to speak. If women won’t be allowed to step out at night, the idea that women are unsafe after dark will only strengthen. That part in Jab We Met where the ticket conductor compares a woman a lone woman to an open box of riches, ready to be ravaged, was not funny then and is not funny now; simply because it hits home. Because I know that isn’t some random dialogue in a random film that will not matter the second I step out of the theatre. That sentence defined and reflected the beliefs of our society at large. The fact that in a place like the University of Delhi, one of the most “woke” institutions in India allowed such outright discriminatory rules to stand and gave men a free pass while caging women shows how little is progress that we have made.
It is imperative that authorities recognise that this form of moral policing does a gross injustice to the young women whose idea of self they are meant to shape and positively influence. Universities across the country need to stop acting like the self-anointed guardians of women. When we don’t question the reasoning behind these chauvinistic rules, we give them legitimacy. Rules that reinforce age-old problematic norms about women, try to constrict their freedom and independence should be actively questioned and fought against.
Image Credits: The Hindu