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Petitioning Swati Maliwal, Chairperson, Delhi Commission for Women

BREAK THE HOSTEL LOCKS #pinjratod: END DISCRIMINATORY RESTRICTIONS ON WOMEN

1,495
Supporters

 To
Swati Maliwal
Chairperson
Delhi Commission for Women
New Delhi

Dear Ma'am

We were encouraged to hear that the Delhi Commission of Women had issued a notice to Jamia Milia Islamia University for practising gender discrimination in cancelling late-nights for residents of the university's girls' hostels. However, as students and alumni of universities across Delhi, we wish to bring to your attention that such sexist practices and regulations are not limited only to Jamia Milia Islamia University, but are an integral feature of colleges and universities all across Delhi and the country in general. In almost every college/university in Delhi, there exists a diverse range of discriminatory rules and regulations that seek to restrict the access and mobility of young women who come to study, work and live in this city. Cultures and practices of moral-policing of women students by administration abound in these institutional spaces. Lack of adequate women's hostels in the city and steep fee-hikes in the existing ones make women even more vulnerable to such discriminatory practices. Non-Existence/Non-Functioning of Sexual Harassment Complaints Committee Cells in universities/colleges further contributes to a lack of gender-sensitive and safe environment for women. We demand that DCW enquires into these issues and takes pro-active action.

We wish to further elaborate these crucial issues and our demands in the following paragraphs:

  • Restrictions on access and mobility of women: The recent controversy with the move by the Jamia administration effectively involved the cancellation of two night-outs a month which allowed women residents to stay outside the hostel till 10pm instead of returning to the hostel as per the 8pm deadline. So tangibly, it was only 4 hours of 'freedom' at stake. However, the larger issue here is the absolute restriction which is imposed on the access and mobility of women students by measures such as 'deadlines' and 'curfews', which exist for women's hostels across universities in Delhi, and largely do not exist for men's hostels at all. Often when a few provisions for 'late-nights' or 'night-outs' do exist, prior permission from 'local guardians' or 'parents' is mandatory. Deadlines/Curfews close off numerous possibilities and experiences that a women student can explore on campus and in the city: whether it is about attending a late-night seminar or working in the library/lab at night or sitting in a park or walking the streets or going for a film or working a part-time night-job for financial independence/survival, or for exploring love – the list is endless. Such discriminatory and restrictive regulations are legitimised through the rhetoric of women's “safety” and “protection”. The only way in which the state or those in power can provide a safe/secure city for its women is by locking up thousands of ADULT women in hostels and denying them a whole plethora of potentially enabling experiences and opportunities? Often such rules are counter-productive and put women at further risk when they are unable to return to the hostel at night.

    We really do feel that a safe city cannot be built by caging hundreds of young women in hostels or just by installing CCTV cameras. A safer city is only possible when women, especially young women who are willing to challenge patriarchal norms and regulations, are able to roam around, inhabit and negotiate the city and its public spaces on their own terms. As young adult women, whether we want to venture/loiter/walk/work in the city at night, should be our decision, and not something which is pre-decided by university or other authorities in the name of our own “safety”. Such restrictions are a violation of our most basic and crucial fundamental/democratic rights of movement and liberty. Measures that claim to provide “safety” and “security” to women need to be enabling and not limiting.

    WE HENCE DEMAND THAT THE DCW CONDUCTS AN INVESTIGATION INTO SUCH DISCRIMINATORY AND SEXIST RULES AND PRACTICES THAT EXIST ACROSS STUDENT/WORKING WOMEN'S HOSTELS IN INSTITUTIONS ACROSS DELHI. WE DEMAND THAT DEADLINES AND CURFEW RULES BE CONSIDERED AFRESH WITH THE PARTICIPATION OF THE HOSTEL RESIDENTS AND DEADLINES DISCRIMINATORY ON GROUNDS OF GENDER BE ABOLISHED IMMEDIATELY.

  • Moral-policing of women students: Women hostellers are constantly subject to humiliating processes of moral-policing by hostel authorities. Incidents where women hostellers are interrogated/shamed about what they are doing or wearing or eating or whom they are meeting or where they are going – are something which almost anybody who has ever resided in a women's hostel in Delhi would have experienced as an everyday reality of their lives. Another common threat is about “informing parents” about one's “misconduct”. These incidents of moral-policing seek to reinforce a certain Brahminical notion of the 'good' and 'obedient' woman – who talks 'politely', wears 'decent' clothes, does not 'question' the administration, family or society, does not indulge in independent/transgressive 'relationships', marries into their caste and class – the qualifications are endless. Thus, the institutional space of the hostel and university, in which a young woman is supposed to live, grow and learn, is not a space that enables her to experience liberating possibilities. Instead it becomes a space which reinforces and strengthens patriarchal and castiest norms and practices that exist in our families, communities and society. We want hostel authorities to treat us a independent and adult young women, and not as “children” who need paternal and familial supervision and regulation.

    WE HENCE DEMAND THAT THE DCW CONDUCTS INSPECTIONS ACROSS HOSTELS IN DELHI AND HOLDS PUBLIC CONSULTATIONS WITH WOMEN THROUGH WHICH THE ISSUE OF MORAL POLICING CAN BE BROUGHT TO THE PUBLIC DOMAIN, AND GUIDELINES THAT PROHIBIT SUCH BEHAVIOUR/PRACTICES, WITH ADEQUATE MECHANISMS FOR GRIEVANCE REDRESSAL, BE ISSUED TO HOSTEL/UNIVERSITY AUTHORITIES.

  • Lack of women's hostels and fee-hikes: There is a severe crisis of hostel accommodation for women who come to live and work in this city. Whenever women residents bring up any grievances, a common response by hostel authorities is “You are lucky to even have a hostel seat, if you have so many problems, just get out”. Recently, one has also observed a troubling trend of massive fee-hikes in government hostels (especially women's), which has further limited the access to such accommodation along the lines of caste and class. Many parents refuse to let women pursue an education in the city if they do not get a 'seat' in the college/university hostel. Various universities have way more seats for men than for women, some 'prestigious' colleges in the city do not even have women's hostels. This means that young women have to arrange accommodation for themselves through what is called the PG (Paying Guest) system or through privately-run hostels. In such private accommodation, not only are rents insanely high and completely non-regulated, the 'managers' of such accommodation are not accountable to any state or university authority. Incidents of moral-policing and harassment abound in private accommodation. We believe that provision of free/affordable and safe accommodation for every person who comes to study in this city is a fundamental right.

    WE HENCE DEMAND THAT DCW CONDUCT AN INVESTIGATION

    -- INTO RISE IN HOSTEL FEE IN WOMEN'S HOSTELS ACROSS DELHI OVER THE LAST 10YEARS AND IDENTIFY INSTANCES IN WHICH FEES OF WOMEN'S HOSTELS ARE HIGHER THAN THAT OF MEN'S.

    -- EXPLORE PROCESSES FOR REGULATING FEE-HIKES IN GOVERNMENT/UNIVERSITY HOSTELS AND IMPLEMENTING RENT CONTROL LAWS IN PRIVATE ACCOMMODATION.

    -- BUILD PRESSURE ON UNIVERSITIES AND THE STATE GOVERNMENT TO CONSTRUCT MORE WOMEN'S HOSTELS ON A PRIORITY BASIS.

    -- HOLD CONSULTATIONS WITH CONCERNED STATE AND UNIVERSITY AUTHORITIES TOWARDS ESTABLISHING MECHANISMS OF ACCOUNTABILITY AND GRIEVANCE REDRESSAL FOR WOMEN STUDENTS RESIDING IN PRIVATE ACCOMMODATION.


  • Non-Existence/Non-Functioning of Sexual Harassment Complaints Committee Cells: While the university and hostel administration is very keen on implementing repressive and regressive measures mentioned above, there has often been a severe lack of initiative when it comes to the implementation of enabling measures such as the constitution of Sexual Harassment Complaints Committee Cells as per the earlier Vishakha Guidelines issued by the Supreme Court of India and other recommendations such as that of the SAKSHAM Committee Report brought out by the UGC. Many colleges/universities are yet to constitute such committees, or even if they exist, it is mostly on paper and not fulfilling any of their responsibilities of gender sensitization. This reflects on how the administration is willing to fulfil a paternalistic role that infringes on women's rights in the name of 'safety', but is lax when it comes to displaying accountability for legal provisions that open up mechanisms for building a gender-sensitive and safer environment.

    WE DEMAND THAT THE DCW ENSURES STRICT IMPLEMENTATION OF THE VIKSHAKA GUIDELINES BY ALL UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES IN DELHI.


We sincerely hope that you will look into the above issues, which are a central experience and grievance of women residents across hostels in Delhi. In most cases, women are unable to openly voice these grievances and issues in front of the administration, as the latter inevitably responds with repressive measures and threatens individual students whom they 'identify' as 'trouble-makers'. Your pro-active action with regard to the incident in Jamia Milia Islamia, is hence, welcome, as it has opened up a space for a much larger dialogue around the problems that young women living in hostels across this city face and we really hope that you will take forward this discussion with adequate action on the demands placed before you.


Thanking you,
Students and Alumni of Universities/Colleges across Delhi


Shambhavi Vikram (Student, University of Delhi), Devangana Kalita (Alumni, University of Delhi), Mahika Banerji (Student, Ambedkar University Delhi & Alumni, University of Delhi), Natasha Narwal (Student, Ambedkar University Delhi & Alumni, University of Delhi), Subhashini Shriya (Student, University of Delhi), Deepti Sharma (Alumni, Jamia Milia Islamia University & University of Delhi), Nikita Agarwal (Alumni, National Law University Delhi), Shubhangi Shukla (Alumni, University of Delhi), Arya Thomas (Alumni, University of Delhi), Anshita Dawar (Student, JNU)

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