Sometime October last year, a graffiti scrawled at the sidewalk of the faculty of arts in the north campus, caught the attention of the most oblivious passerby. A silhouette of girl; painted red, rested on the floor, with a message accompanying it – loud and clear: "I am out tonight!"
This was part of the campaign called 'Pinjra Tod' started by the female students of different colleges and universities in the Delhi, against the discriminatory hostel rules; the most significant being the ‘curfew timing’ in girls hostels which disallowed female students from staying out late.
It was a protest against the 'discriminatory rules' that applied only to female students; rules that automatically made male students the privileged lot.
A year on to the campaign, the discrimination remains in various universities across the country and now the protest has reached to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
The women hostel dwellers of AMU are now posing resistance to what a student remarked as “ against the demeaning moral policing at the hands of the hostel administration".
The Indira Gandhi Hall (one of the girl’s hostel of AMU ) is witnessing a clash between the students and the Provost starting from the eve of the big event organised at AMU on the birth anniversary of Sir Syed Day, which is celebrated every year on 17 October. This is the first major stand that the female students of the university have taken since the Students Union was formed on 13 October 2016 in which girls had actively participated.
Large numbers of AMU female students have been protesting since Sunday morning demanding the resignation of Farrukh Arjumand, the Provost of Indira Gandhi Hall. Over 500 girls have signed the petition and the demand list and about 400 girls have been sitting on ‘dharna’ for the last two days and two nights. A few girls also slept out in the open through the night. The second night saw hungry protesters as most of the Indira Gandhi Hall girls boycotted the dinner on the much-celebrated occasion of Sir Syed Day. The reasons behind the protest have been a series of alleged untoward remarks and behaviour of the hostel administration. There has been seething anger among the students towards the inconvenient rules-regulations and public shaming of the hostel girls at the hands of the authority.
The recent protest was triggered by an incident in which the provost stopped hostelers from attending the cultural evening held on Saturday, October, 15 and threatened the girls of expulsion in case they sought help from the newly elected Students’ Union.
The hostelers have prepared a long petition, against the hostel management, including a strong demand for Provost’s resignation along with other demands for the improvement in hostel management. Students from Delhi also joined hands in solidarity. Members of Pinjra Tod group boosted the morale of the protesters with their presence.
“Students are disappointed in the vice chancellor as he did not listen to them and kept insisting on calling it off. Vice Chancellor did not come to meet the girls despite knowing the fact that some of them will be spending the night in the open. He came in the early hours of Monday morning only to reprimand the girl students for their alleged misconduct”, said one of the protesting students.
"Moral policing and inconvenient rules of girls’ hostel is reportedly a widespread phenomenon in AMU", remarked another protesting student. AMU has been catching attention in matters regarding the female students. In the past there has been a major issue of stopping the female students from accessing the university’s library and also the issue of the choice of female students in taking admission either in Abdullah College for women or in the departments on main university campus.
Women’s issues have been a major bone of contention in AMU, which keeps erupting in one way or the other. The recent ongoing hostelers’ protest is not just a demand for the resignation of the provost but a bigger agitation in the direction of changing the rules for women on campus.
A protesting student who did not want to be identified said, “On most trivial issue the hostel authorities resort to character assassination. Like if we go out of the hostel, it is assumed that we are indulging in some wrongdoings. If we go to Delhi for some educational purpose or to give an entrance and we if we get late while returning, which usually happens given the distance we are not allowed to enter the hostel. Our character and intention is questioned”.
She adds, “This harassment is not limited to the hostel timings. If we try to reach out to hostel authorities with any other complaint or demands like for better food, or a cooked breakfast, we are threatened of being thrown of out of the hostel. We are threatened that if we hold any protest or in any manner become part of any such gathering we will be thrown out of hostel.”
Some of the very reasonable demands made by the girls are 24 hours hostel entry, ambulance facility, permission to be part of all events of the university, abolishing of late entry fine in the hostels, inspection of hygiene condition, providing of newspapers and magazines etc.
The letter written by the residents of the IG Hall to the Dean Student’s Welfare (DSW ) of the AMU clearly reflects the angst and pain of the female students. “In response to the past one year and the recent chaos created by the misuse of the administrative powers of the Provost , Indira Gandhi hall appeal and demand the immediate change of our Provost , Farukh Arjmanad, on democratic ground as she being the dictator tries to suppress every genuine issue of the hall raised by the resident students by threatening us with expulsion , remarking us on our character “ using rude language and our parents and family on every petty issue”, states the letter.
The demand note further reads, “Every voice raised against the mismanagement of the provost has been every time met with brutal threats and immoral allegation”.