Mumbai college creates separate section for girls in canteen: Sexism disguised as protection

A college in Mumbai created a separate section for girls in the canteen to prevent sexual assault in the campus.

Anshu Lal February 07, 2017 17:06:24 IST
Mumbai college creates separate section for girls in canteen: Sexism disguised as protection

To understand how deep-rooted the problem of sexism and patriarchy is in India, one only needs to look at its education system.

It is highly ironic that some educational institutions, which are supposed to impart knowledge, become centres of childish logic and moral policing and directly or indirectly encourage sexism.

And the Government Polytechnic College in Mumbai has made sure everyone notices this bad habit of institutions is still very much present. A report in The Times of India said that the college has demarcated different sections using ropes for men and women in the college canteen.

Swati Deshpande, the principal, has said that this step was taken because "former students enter the campus and create a ruckus in the canteen, they misbehave with girls. In fact, one such incident had to be reported to police in October."

Making sure that we find out the full extent of her ignorance, Deshpande also told The Times of India that she thought girls suffer from Poly Cystic Ovarian Diseases (PCODs) because they "dress like men", which leads to "a gender role reversal" in their minds.

The principal of a vocational institute in Mumbai — one of the most developed cities in India — believes that a disease clearly linked with hormonal imbalance is actually caused by some magical changes which take place in girls' brains when they "dress like men".

That is how pathetic the state of gender equality is in India.

But the events at the Mumbai college are (unfortunately) not shocking. Because many other institutions have engaged in similar practices. Denying the students from the Women's College access to the Maulana Azad Library in Aligarh Muslim University, its vice-chancellor Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah had said in 2014 that if girls were allowed, there would be "four times more boys" in the library.

Mumbai college creates separate section for girls in canteen Sexism disguised as protection

Representational image. AFP

In 2015, Farook College in Kozhikode, Kerala suspended a student who protested against the management's decision to crack down on boys and girls sitting next to each other.

Such 'measures' have been part of the Indian education system for a long time, despite the fact that a report by the University Grants Commission (UGC) has said that "the provision of safety for women on campuses must eschew the practice or tendency to be overly prescriptive to women by restricting their freedom of movement."

"Concern for the safety of all women, but particularly young women students should not lead to discriminatory rules for women in the hostels. The attitude to women’s safety in hostels often infantilizes these adult women and does not empower them to learn to strategize about their own safety. Most importantly the focus would have to shift to ensuring a safe environment around the hostel and campus," says the UGC report titled 'Measures for Ensuring the Safety of Women and Programmes for Gender Sensitization'.

Gender segregation in institutes also puts the onus of sexual assault on the victim. It is tiring and frustrating to keep pointing out the blatant flaw in this point of view over and over again and see no or very few results.

Instead of coming up with ridiculous dress codes for women and separating men and women in the canteen, the institute should have taken steps to ensure that strict action is always taken against sexual assault culprits. By the way, separating men and women in the canteen will not in any way prevent "former students" — who allegedly sexually assault girl students — from entering the campus.

It would also be ignorant and naive to assume that gender segregation in college campuses has nothing to do with the taboo associated with sex.

Authorities often assume that the best way to prevent sexual assault is to prevent any interaction taking place between the two sexes in the first place. But the lack of interaction with the opposite sex just leads to sexual frustration and ignorance about sex and the other gender, ironically leading to more sexual assaults.

In fact, a report by the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR) said that a World Health Organisation study showed that proper sex education (which can never be fully imparted without allowing healthy interaction with the opposite sex) delays the onset of sexual activity and encourages safe sexual activity.

It is important that we treat teenage students more like adults rather than children who must be 'protected' from the concept of sex and, more importantly, consent.

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