by Gender Circle
“Don’t you know,
They’re talkin’ bout a revolution,
It sounds like a whisper.”
(credited to Pinjra tod campaign)
Many of you may have seen Facebook posts and articles about a recent campaign called ‘Pinjra tod’. We are here to tell you exactly what it’s about and why it is relevant for each and every one of us.
The campaign was initiated in early August by women from DU, Jamia Millia Islamia, Ambedkar University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. The initial trigger was discriminatory rules for men and women which inevitably required women to adhere to norms of ‘decency’ and ‘morality’ and submit to the policing of their bodies and choices. A Facebook page was created which served as a safe outlet for women living in hostels and PGs to share their accounts of moral policing, surveillance, and the impact of such oppressive regimes on their lives. Their experiences may feature guards, wardens, principals and landlords but all these instances are symbolic of a larger narrative – of policing women’s bodies in the name of security and safety. This protectionist attitude of the authorities curbs female liberty, and the recent UGC Guidelines serve to ensure that institutions continue the same.
The name of the campaign is significant as it resonates with the breaking of locks and reclaiming of public spaces. There are arbitrary and restrictive rules which are enforced with the help of infrastructure such as huge gates, multiple guards, ID cards checks, CCTV cameras and constant communication with parents, without any regard for the individual’s consent.
The UGC Guidelines recommend the use of Biometrics for the purposes of attendance in classes and hostels. This is to be accompanied by frequent checking of bags, physical checks and constant monitoring of when, where and with whom students are going out of campus. With the presence of sufficiently armed guards, night patrols, and substantially more power in the hands of wardens and parents, the students are stripped of their agency as individuals and are reduced to children. There are apparently quarterly parent-teacher meetings to be organized for constant feedback on the students. Excursions and night-outs require their authorization. CCTV surveillance in hostels and classrooms curbs freedom of expression and encourages conformity while stifling independent student interaction. This, of course, is accompanied by measures to be adopted in case students agitate and rebel. The threats of shaming, suspension or even expulsion is a huge deterrent to students questioning and debating the norms being imposed on them.
The modes of protest have also generated interest and debate. Several members have received violent phone calls with threats of sexual violence. And of course, one cannot envisage a poster campaign without the tearing up and blackening of posters in retaliation. The wide participation of women is resonant of previous movements such as Take Back the Night and Why Loiter. This new consciousness among women in itself is so inspiring and their expression of solidarity against patriarchal structures is groundbreaking.
There have been signature campaigns, online petitions and meetings in the open, but they are simultaneously accompanied by guerilla tactics such as spray-painting messages of liberation. Resistance has been adopted in an attempt to reclaim the very institutions that oppress them. Many have criticized the movement’s modes of protest by arguing that they are ruining public property, and promoting vandalism. However, confining modes of protest to what the dominant majority and heads of institutions find ‘acceptable’ may be counter-productive as it requires one to fight the system according to the rules laid down by that very draconian regime. Modes of protest should not be dictated and confined according to what is ‘reasonable’. Protests are meant to pull you out of your comfort zone and make you pay attention to the harsh realities faced by some.
The aims of the campaign are simple – this does not begin or end with the repeal of the archaic and undemocratic UGC guidelines. It aspires to spark off a conversation on sexual harassment redressal mechanisms on campuses, and create equal and safe spaces for all genders wherein students are treated as humans capable of making decisions concerning their lives without being constantly controlled. It is as if the Big Brother is constantly watching us, waiting to punish us for expressing our individuality. One may be placated by promises of a safe surveillance policy, but we firstly need to debate the need for surveillance in the first place if it comes at the cost of student liberty.
Colleges are meant to be spaces of liberation, exploration, experimentation and discovering oneself. Such measures obviously restrict our actions as we are constantly checking ourselves against standards of morality, decency and traditions. Instead of questioning notions of caste, class, gender, religion and sexuality, we are instead compelled to submit without embarking on a quest to find our own identity. Instead of becoming adults capable of mature and intelligent engagement, our independence and self-determination are nipped in the bud.
To this end, a Jan Sunwai is being conducted on 10th October at 2pm in Jantar Mantar. A petition is going to be presented before members of the Delhi Commission for Women in the hope that there is a healthy discussion on the need to change the framework and mindset in which these guidelines were enacted. There is an online petition to collect signatures for the same.
Pinjra tod symbolizes the struggle to break free of the sexist and misogynistic ideologies that pervade our institutions, family and societal structures, which we are condemned to internalize and normalize.
The GenderCircle shall be having an internal discussion on Wednesday, 7th October at 4:00 pm in front of the canteen. We feel that that this movement aims at something that strikes the heart of all institutions: student empowerment and an inclusive environment which does not tolerate sexual harassment. We want to discuss the UGC guidelines: their purpose, their modality, and their implications. We invite all of you to attend this informal discussion because it will be meaningless without a variety of perspectives and opinions on the basis of lived experiences. While the movement has not spread to our campus, we would like to express solidarity with what the campaign represents: women taking control and participating in the processes that constrain and oppress them. The campaign posits women as individuals possessing autonomy and agency, and we feel that it is a great move to signify the importance of resistance and dissent.