” Just when the student, almost in tears, is about to leave to follow his orders, he screams his lungs out in the gathering, “And if you come to college dressed like this again, I will make you take off all the clothes right there and walk naked in front of the whole college. ”
I have just finished one year at a Liberal Studies institution, where I finally learned to unlearn all the sick and twisted attitudes I picked up as a young student in my hometown. I have also been a student of psychology, and particularly understand the influence of rules and punishments in the shaping up of one’s outlook to life and everything around them.
As I sit down to write today, I’m inconvenienced and outraged. But I’d like to make myself clear at the outset that this piece is not attempt to defame any individual or institution, but an objective presentation of the realities that I have so far been afraid to raise my voice against, and how I realize each day that I should have spoken up. In a way, personally, this piece is also a redemption of own my sins of not speaking out at the right time. And I am unapologetic about it.
The images you will see below are the new rules brought out by St. Aloysius PU College, my alma mater. I have studied in St. Aloysius institutions for a total of five years (two years in pre-university, three in university). And each day of my life after these five years, I have slowly come to realize how much the rules imposed here have taken away from my developing an open mind as an adolescent.
More often than not, this institution has curbed the students’ right to express themselves politically. I remember clearly how the boys in my college who went out to show solidarity during Anna Hazare’s hunger strike were punished. Although I am personally against institutions stopping men and women from thinking by keeping them apolitical, that is not the point I am making here. The point is about the choice of punishments. These boys were kept locked in lecture hall for over a couple of hours to separate them from the rest of the “obedient” students (of which I am shamefully a part), some of their parents called up for their children’s “misbehavior”, and about eleven of them suspended from classes for about a week.
In this institution, I have had senior lady professors turning me around in front of a swarm of students and looking at my butt, to check if my kurta is adequately covering my “seat”. This is a the kind of treatment I’d take from no one at this point of time, no matter what authority they hold. And although afraid, I was still a just and aware student back then. The fact that I knew what was happening was wrong and that I still felt powerless to do anything about it put an immense amount of mental pressure on me. These incidents have taken so much away from a beautiful college life I was otherwise having at Aloysius.
One must make the faux pas of thinking that these draconian measures happened only at the pre-university level and surely at the degree level, students are given more freedom of choice and expression. My first week was a reality check. I realized, once more, I was going to have to struggle my way through the three years. Apart from the many times where everybody from the most senior lady professor, the then vice principal, to the most junior of the lady teachers, being assigned the additional duty ensure that the women students are not dressed “indecently”, one incident really unsettled me:
A senior MALE professor stops a female student midway to lunch amidst a huge crowd of students, roars at her for wearing a T-shirt to college.
“Is this the way to dress to college? Don’t you know the rules?”
A new student, just one week into the institution, she admits, “Sir, I did not know. But this won’t happen again.”
He still thinks that he must impart some values in her that her parents perhaps forgot to. Hence, he drags in questions of morals, the duty of her parents, her own “behavior of trying to attract boys”, and ends by saying, “I want you to go home and change right now.”
The students responds meekly, “Sir, I live about one hour away from here. I will be missing all my classes if I go back home.”
“I don’t care. I have noted down your class and batch. I am going to come and check if you have changed or not.”
Just when the student, almost in tears, is about to leave as to follow his orders, he screams his lungs out in the gathering, “And if you come to college dressed like this again, I will make you take off all the clothes right there and walk naked in front of the whole college.”
I cringe as I remember how humiliated and distressed the student must have felt. Just as I cringed then. I wish I had known better. I wish I had known that I should have reported him for harassment. But I wish I wasn’t so sure nothing was going to come out of it, that the matter would actually be taken seriously. I wish.
All of this then happened more informally than officially. Right now, the PU college dares to officially write these sexist rules down on paper. This institution, over 150 years old, takes pride in the fact that no matter what kind of rules they bring in overnight (without ,obviously, consulting the student body) and regardless of the punishments they impose, it will attract students due to its legacy. And somehow, we young students, as naive as we are, never really fought back, even with over a strength of over 2000 students every year.
I have been lucky enough to get out and live in spaces with more open-minded people post those five years. And I have seen the consequences of those five years of conditioning coming in the way of my outlook and judgments of people and the world. I have seen the dangers of such biases. I also know that not everyone will get chances to unlearn such attitudes. Therefore, we are creating an unhealthy breed of “men and women for others”.
By telling the students to behave according to the “norms of the society” without questioning them yourself or defining it, you are reinforcing the reflection of the sick and archaic attitudes of the society as the “norm”. What kind of behavior or “misbehavior” from students mandates this kind of infliction over students in the name of “precautionary measures”? What exactly are you trying to prevent?
Can someone from this institution give me one, just one, convincing argument as to how prohibiting “only” girls from going out of the college premises for lunch can ever be an acceptable safety or disciplinary measure? Using stop-driving-to-avoid-accidents logic, are we? Will women students being locked up inside the walls of classrooms then be the “norm of the society”? Perhaps we who are educated in your institution can then extract our learning from your rules and protect our daughters by restricting them from getting out, even to go to school and college. Perhaps I’m stretching the example too far, but I need not lecture an educational institution about the impact of education on developing minds.
My time in North India made me realize that my beloved town Mangalore is rather infamous in the north for its stories of moral policing. I have felt anger and shame that this is how the place I have lived in most of my life is seen through an outsider’s eye. Now my heart sinks that my own alma mater is day-by-day imposing degenerative rules and making it a part of students’ education. When we are struggling to fight the moral policing outside, colleges are carrying out “institutionalized moral policing”. The students are left helpless and with no choice, because they will be asked to leave if they have a problem. How many of us could gather the courage to quit college and fight when we were 16? I couldn’t. As a response to a suggestion made by a dear friend, I’d like to offer an explanation: I’ve tried here to address not the bigger problem of existing inherent sexist attitude of the society in general, but the institutionalization of these attitudes through spaces such as educational institutions.
Hence, today I call for my friends from Aloysius and all the students out there who are subject to these kind of injustices or know somebody who is, to raise your voices against this. I thank my friend Satshya for taking this conversation beyond show of displeasure on whatssap groups (https://satshyatharien.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/sexist-rules-in-st-aloysius-pu-college/). I stand in solidarity with you.
Colleges will never be spaces for profound and critical thinking if one is preoccupied with the perpetual mental torment caused by curbing of basic rights and distressed by the teachers’ threats. And we are not looking forward to creating a generation of unthinking and unquestioning individuals. My history professor once told us, “If you want transformation, close the circle and get out of it. The only answer to extremism is moderation.” I choose to get out of this circle of extreme measures.