After releasing a charter of demands regarding the hostel regulations and receiving a dissatisfying response from the administration, LSR united with Pinjra Tod on 5th November to demonstrate a protest against curfews, gendered treatment, absence of OBC reservations, and more.
At 5 PM on 3rd November 2018, the students of Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College, along with supporters from Pinjra Tod, collected outside the main-gate of LSR to engage in a protest. The protest’s objective was to get the administration to come out of the college gates and to engage with them on the demands listed in the charter released by Pinjra Tod and LSR.
Some of the demands from the charter stem from a practice of sexist and hypocritical foundations, students stated. The University Grants’ Commission’s regulations prohibit discriminatory rules citing safety considerations for women. For example, the curfew was 10 PM before 3rd November 2018, and it was mandatory for the first-year residents to acquire the signature of either of the two wardens in a ‘day-slip’, if they wished to move out of college at any time of the day before 7:30 PM. Staying out at night was permissible for only four nights a month, and even then the tedious procedure ensured the restrictions on the women’s mobility.
The accounts of the residents present a picture of gendered discrimination and judgements, which also includes practices ignoring the PWD residents’ convenience in mobilisation in the hostel premises. On the condition of anonymity, a resident shared that once when another LSR hostel resident was moving out after 7:30 PM, she was asked the following by the authority at the hostel- “Kiska bistar garam karne jaa rahi ho?” Several other residents revealed the hypocrisy in citing safety in maintaining curfews for adult women, while at the same time ‘gating out’, i.e. suspending the residents for breaking alleged rules, at any given time. A student was once forced to spend the night at the railway station when her train reached late enough for her to miss the 10 PM deadline.
When demonstrations were announced, the administration accepted a few demands from the charter, to be exercised from the beginning of the second semester, i.e. 1st January 2019, which are as follows:
- The curfew timings were pushed to 10:30 PM.
- The concept of ‘only four nights out’ was amended to the attendance rule of 60% per month.
- The system of issuing day slips stands abolished, and identity cards will be issued.
- Instead of the rule of making mandatory two local guardians (married), there will be the provision of an emergency contact number.
- Leaves will be issued without the signatures of any local guardian or parents.
- Appropriate changes will be made in the Hostel Handbook.
There has been no abolition of the curfew, or adherence to the reservation guidelines for the OBC community, and many other significant demands remain unaddressed. Pinjra Tod gathered in lieu of the said events, and the students shouted slogans like ‘Kuchh salaakhein tooti hain, poora pinjra baaki hai!’ (‘Some grates have broken, the entire cage remains!’), ‘Pitrisatta ka khol de pol, pinjra tod, pinjra tod!’ (‘Demolish the patriarchy, break the cage, break the cage!’), etc. to remind the college administration of the hypocrisy used to justify the regulations in hostel.
Over 50 women joined the demonstration, and the momentum increased such that an ultimatum was declared by the protesters, according to which the principal was asked to engage with them outside the college gates by 6:30 PM. The principal, Dr. Suman Sharma, did not respond to the cries and demands of the demonstrators. The vice-principal and a few members of the college administration stepped out of the gates, and attempted to deter the protest through a dialogue, but the demonstrators shouted ‘shame’ and refused the reported tokenistic gestures.
The Hostel’s Union was not present at the demonstration, nor was any statement of solidarity released from its end. Allegedly, some members of the union approached the administration in confidence and stated that they had been feeling ‘pressurised and attacked’ by the methods of the protest. After 8 PM on the 5th, the union released a statement defending its non-participation and non-solidarity for the protest, and also addressed other concerns in it.
At 6:16 PM, the LSR Students’ Union representatives, Katyani and Drishti, announced that they were going to engage with the administration to make them aware of the demonstrators’ decision to break open the college gates, if they failed to address them. No fruition occurred of the expected nature for the students as the administration proposed permitting only the current students of LSR to assemble in the college auditorium for a discussion on the demands. The demonstrators refused, and at 6:48 PM the demonstration took to the road. The one-way was blocked by the demonstration and the traffic assimilated for approximately thirty minutes before being diverted by the police officials. Women alleged groping and perverse remarks directed at them by the men gathered outside LSR.
Almost a quarter past seven, the demonstrators marched towards the intersection at the traffic signal, when their demands remained unheard by the administration. Around 8:30 PM, the students were let into the premises and the principal agreed to address them. Due to the apprehension of being intimidated by the administration, many demonstrators sat outside the gate and continued raising the slogans against the regulations.
The official account of Pinjra Tod remains that the principal left within a quick while of her appearance before the student community. They stated: “LSR principal barely came out for two minutes and left the protest site. All of campus is militarised with police men & plain clothed police women, they beat up women mercilessly. They say they will implement OBC reservation once there are more seats!” Members of the SU are reported to have been pelted at with stones, and scratched as they extended their explicit support to the cause. At 10:30 PM, the demonstrators broke through the hostel gates and continue to chant revolutionary slogans, singing songs to claim their liberty by defying the curfew for the day.
At 10:30 am on 6th November, about 30 faculty members entered the hostel and the hostel-residents’ account revealed that they were not allowed to move outside and assembling in the dining hall was made compulsory. The students gathered outside the hostel again.
Day-scholars and residents later assembled in the hostel gardens, where the faculty members addressed the students. In the dialogue, the hostel union’s President, Aarushi, stated that they would issue a solidarity statement if those students, who wish for the curfew to continue and had previously approached them personally, did not explicitly voice their perspective at the time.
A student who had been accused of intimidating the union, stated that the demands were being suggested as reductive when there was much more than the curfew.
Professors stated that they would listen to the demands point by point, and respond accordingly. When the issue of WiFi was brought up, the faculty members agreed with the demand and stated that they had already complained regarding it, and the inadequacy of the WiFi was not solely for the hostel residents. They were working upon it. The students demanded a deadline for the course of action.
The protests have paused for now and the new plan of action is as follows:
- A new, more detailed charter of demands will be formed by 7th November as the administration has accepted certain demands already and they have termed the main demands ‘vague’.
- The deadline for sending a written response back to the demonstrators is Sunday for the administration.
- The principal has to address the students on Monday in the auditorium. If she fails to, or if the students remain dissatisfied, then the protests will resume from Monday onwards.
- Attendance was not adhered to yesterday, and the same will happen on Monday.
The hostel warden has suggested that she will forward the letter to the principal herself, and Katyani from the Students’ Union stated that the students’ body of LSR will be present to back up the demands.
Image Credits: Anushree Joshi for DU Beat