The Bits Pilani phenomenon: A guide on how to remove a restrictive hostel curfew for women

Every teenager dreams of going to a great college. What exactly do they dream of?

*Cool professors, maybe someone like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society?
*Attractive members of the opposite sex. Who hasn't dreamt of the perfect college romance?
*And most often then not, if they are moving to another city to study, a safe and nice place to stay.

For men, the last part usually works out. Hostels for men are crowded and messy, sure. But they have no deadlines, or a warden breathing down their neck for them to come home early because 'the world after dark isn't a safe place for girls.' (My friend's warden told her this, when she was protesting the 9 pm deadline in Mumbai)

Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Why is it so important for the world, and political parties to make sure young girls cannot explore the new city they are living in after dark?

Everyone who is anyone wants a say in this matter, it is almost like the person who doesn't speak of this will be left out of a race of being the most old-fashioned and dogmatic.

Maneka Gandhi for instance, observed that an imposition of early curfew in hostels was a necessary condition for protecting women. Moreover, she went on to say – even more bizarrely – that a lakshman rekha must be drawn to protect women from their own 'hormonal outbursts.'

The International Student House for Women (ISHW) and Meghdoot Hostel of Delhi University banned everyone from exiting their hostels on Holi.

To protest this outragouesness, there have been campaigns to take this rule down. Like Pinjra Tod.

It seems like relentless protesting seems to have some effect on Hostel officials who live in the 1800s. Mumbai University has sort of lifted the night curfew in its hostels, citing reasons that girls can be allowed to study in the libraries after 10pm during exam time after getting a duly signed form.

One of the most notable victories comes from the women’s hostel in BITS Pilani, Meera Bhawan, which has lifted its 11.30 curfew.

How did this miracle actually happen?

A student, Sibesh Kar posted the steps of action taken against the restrictive campus rules on his medium blog.
The curfew, or the 'in-time restriction', is a 40-year old rule at BITS Pilani, Pilani Campus that decreed that all residents of the girls’ hostel (Meera Bhawan) have to return to their hostels by 11.30 pm and defaulting on this rule often leads to strict action.

The students collectively sent an email to all the residents of Pilani campus:

Kar told Firstpost what was going through his mind when he requested the officials to lift the girls hostel curfew. He says, "I was sort of sick of the fact that everyone (me included) was just unproductively ranting about it, instead of actually trying to do anything about it. Change happens because people do it, and in the Nash equilibrium that I mentioned in the post, no change would happen if people didn't. Besides, I thought that if we could do it the way at BITS, then it would set a strong precedent for other places and probably some sort of demonstration effect would ensue, as it has."

Kar and his fellow students faced a lot of opposition for the removal of curfew. Luckily since BITS Pilani is not as politically charged as other institutions, there was no interference from political parties.

He says about the removal of hostel curfew, "Yes, there is always resistance to any sort of change. Introducing a new order of things is difficult to carry out, doubtful of success, and dangerous to handle. A reformer has resistance from all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order; this arises partly from the incredulity of those who do not truly believe in anything new until they actually have experience of it. While the former was something that I was expecting, the latter was surprising to me. For instance, there were female students who I asked to help out, who refused, saying that the 'curfew didn't affect them much anyway.' and 'It helped them get off work early', which sort of makes you question whether making all the effort is worth it. The only thing I can probably say to people like this is, hey, it doesn't affect me personally either! Personal benefit was never the point."

"About resistance from the institute, their primary aim is to ensure the well-being of the students, but there were some reservations that were still keeping the curfew around that could be resolved using the analytical approach that we took. What is inspirational is the constructive debate that our chief warden participated in, that restored my belief that the college administration truly has the best interests of students in mind...One of the biggest sources of resistance is a few parents. The institute is as accountable to the parents as it is to the students, so their views also have to be taken into consideration. But I think it's unfair to impose restrictions on the wards of all parents because of the views of the few parents. To tackle this, we got ‘Letters of Faith’ from parents reaffirming their faith in their daughter's decision making and the institutes decision. Win-win,” Kar added.

Was there any backlash after the curfew was lifted. Kar elaborates, “Surprisingly, there wasn’t any. The BITS Pilani administration and all the stakeholders involved have been receiving a lot of praise from alumni and the general public/media for taking a progressive step and for setting a positive example for how institutes all over the country should go about constructive change. I personally am very happy that this happened, and that we could make a difference not only in Pilani, but set a precedent for things to come in other institutes as well. That post itself seems to have struck a chord with people across ages, genders and geographies - it has been shared over 15K times, and viewed by over a lakh people. I was surprised when I ran a stat check on that post which showed that it had been shared by more men than by women. Hopefully a sign of good things to come!”

He elaborates how other institutions followed suit. “The happenings at Pilani in November set a precedent and lead the way for the removal of the curfew at BITS Goa too a week later.”

That makes it down and hopefully many colleges to follow suit.


Published Date: Mar 26, 2017 08:28 am | Updated Date: Mar 26, 2017 08:28 am

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