I was welcomed at Government Degree College, Baramulla, Kashmir with an orientation session. All the freshers attended the session where the faculty members introduced themselves to us. We were informed that our college was an institution with ‘potential for excellence’, among other things. We were also given a verbal tour into the magnificent labs. In the end, a female professor asked us to stay back, while the men were asked to leave.
This session was meant to remind us that we were girls and girls needed to behave. It was a boys’ college and with just few girls in the campus – we were going to be under scrutiny, we were told. We were also told things like our izzat (honour) was in our hands. Say, if we spoke to boys in the corridors or on the lawn, people were bound to talk ill about us. We had to face the heat if we laughed out loud or shook hands with boys. We were even cautioned that we were under constant CCTV surveillance.
I went to a co-ed school, grew up playing with boys and competing with them in studies. It was the first time that I was being told that interaction with boys was something that I should find undesirable. No such lessons were given to the boys. Perhaps, boys have no izzat.
We had to face the heat if we laughed out loud or shook hands with boys.
In our classroom, the teacher made the boys and girls sit in different rows and a lecture on sharam, haya (shame) and morality was given for 40 minutes. This lecture was mostly to teach, rather warn girls from talking to boys. As a result of this, many of my female classmates never spoke to the boys during the three year course. They didn’t share their contact information with anyone, not even the girls, fearing that someone might pass it on to a boy. Because of this they missed out on a lot of assignments that would get passed around through phone calls or Whatsapp.
The fear was never baseless. One day a highly educated faculty member found a boy and a girl sitting on a lawn (in broad daylight). They were later summoned to the principal’s chamber and were humiliated and shamed by one and all. The female disciplinary in-charge also stepped in and asked them to meet her separately in the female staff room where they were again shamed, especially the girl. She was told that her father would be called, something that anyone would dread. She was additionally humiliated for having worn some makeup. Wearing makeup, to them, meant that the girl was attempting to seduce every man in the college.
On another occasion, a girl was bashed for wearing skinny jeans to college when she had come in to fill her exam form. Her bag was checked and she was asked to leave the campus immediately and return only in a salwar.
One of the remarkable things that one notices in this college is how nearly all women cover their heads. While it should be a matter of personal choice, the students are coerced into it on our day-outs and picnics. A lone girl, if found without her hijab on, was always pointed fingers at and looked down upon.
On many occasions as we would sit to work on our assignments, the higher-ups would act as typical moral police and at times, even lambast the fresh faculty members who seemed a lot more liberal and evolved in their ways of teaching.
Three years after I passed out, something from college caught my eye and amused me – a notice of Dos and Don’ts in the campus. It asked the girls and boys to not to be “in an objectionable position” with each other and to follow moral and ethical guidelines. This stand is particularly problematic because there are no fixed definitions for these three, very loaded terms. Are shaking hands and chatting with an opposite gender objectionable? That is what the students have been bashed for in the past. The college authorities are yet to realise that they are not kindergarten teachers to dictate such juvenile rules.
Their attitude is killing the confidence of many and pushing them to an extremely conservative line of thought that could dangerous in their later lives. On one hand, we are taught principles of liberalism, feminism, and empowerment, and on the other, we are constricted to an extent where we are not allowed to have a decent conversation with the other gender. This difference in theory and practice only makes our education shallow and meaningless.
The faculty members have come from reputed institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia University, and from foreign universities and yet they fail to understand the basic principle that without interaction with other genders, the growth and learning of a person remains incomplete. They cannot and should not restrict teenagers in a way that they are compelled to become deviants and start to only look at other genders as highly sexualised objects and not humans that they need to interact with.
Ironically, not even once has the college been so particular about the education they impart. On joining this college, we were given the understanding that we could miss lectures and attendance would be worked out eventually, although this was never explicitly mentioned. The students of this college would have attained great heights if the college was more particular about the attendance and the conduct of the classes. What a great change it would be if the college regularly assessed the class performance of the teachers in addition to focusing on discipline and morality of the students!
The college today allows girls to take admission in many of the courses but if the college is more interested in establishing a madrasa under a seemingly liberal title, then it should stop fooling the society. One of the defences that the college would give if faced with these complaints is that they are merely complying with the society and its mindset. Any educational institution should be shut down if it is unwilling to bring a change in the narrow mindset of the society. These institutions should bring a positive change, especially for women.
Women empowerment and its advocacy should not remain confined to sociology texts or conferences and seminars. Last year, the college organised multiple events on these themes. What moral right does the college then have to organise such events? It is done only to mark its presence on the map of ‘liberalism’. Empowerment can occur through seemingly insignificant things, sometimes through just letting the sleeve length be of our choice and sometimes through merely letting us decide the level of proximity while interacting with a male student.
Women empowerment and its advocacy should not remain confined to sociology texts or conferences and seminars.
There is also a visible hypocrisy in the number of faculty members opting to not send their children to this college. A parent, after all, wouldn’t let their child grow in a regressive environment like that. They all want their kids to grow up with the knowledge and practice of everything that is modern. But the burden of morality is to be carried out by the unfortunate ones who take admissions expecting to learn and grow.
As for me, I was bid farewell by a teacher yelling at me that if I, as a woman, did not learn to control on my actions, I should continue my education in an all-female institution. The remark was made when she spotted me taking pictures with my classmates on the day of my farewell.
Featured Image Source: Baramulla College