April 15th, 2012
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The Ayatollahs of IIT-Madras Mull Safety Measures For Female Students: Moral Policing?

Moral policing-a brutal mental torture of the people, by the people, for the people to literally ‘off’ the people- has become a new verbatim in the dictionary of contemporary Indian social life. Whether it be Thasni Banu,who was verbally abused and assaulted by a group of men near Kochi, or another girl, who was attacked by Sri Ram Sena during their Talibanic avatar in Manglore, it disturbs and aches Indian psyche. Here comes the latest from Chennai:

The Ayatollahs of IIT-Madras Mull Safety Measures For Female Students: Moral Policing?

The elite institution plans to put its 1000 female students under a virtual house arrest to ensure their safety

A wave of “moral awakening” is sweeping through the Indian Institute of Technology Madras. The great “Indian culture”, the Orwellian administration thinks, dictates how the female students of the institute should behave. In light of cases of sexual harassment and assault, the institute plans to introduce measures aimed at ensuring the safety of its female students. However, the measures are not substantiated by any official information on the offences.

The administration has galloped on to the moral high ground by invoking the hallowed “culture” of the land. It is the same “culture” which puts the onus of a crime on the victim while the perpetrator gets off scot-free. Here is how IITM plans to make its campus safe for the female students. The proposed restrictions apply only to the female students.

Biometric system and 11:00 P.M. curfew

A biometric system would be installed which would profile the students on the basis of their movement in and out of the hostel. The female students would be discouraged from stepping out of their hostels after 11:00 P.M.

First, a student would not be able to visit her department late at night to access the computer facility on the eve of an exam or an important presentation. Second, what should a student do if she wants to have food late at night? Some eateries in the campus remain open until 2:00 A.M. The administration has a simple solution. One must eat only at the mess during the fixed timings. It is a bizarre argument which links hunger to safety. Third, a student may go out of her hostel provided that she procures a “meaningful purposes letter” from her department. The letter should be furnished every time a female student steps out of her hostel after 11:00 P.M. Finally, students may face “difficult questions” on the basis of their movement in and out of their hostels.

Paid escorts

A female student can avail of the paid escort service arranged by the institute if she wants to step out of her hostel after 11:00 P.M. The male students of the institute would be paid to volunteer as an escort.

This is a perfect instance of the male savior complex. Only a genius can come up with a safety enhancing measure like this one, it befits IIT. It presupposes the incorruptibility of the male escort. So if a girl wants to go out of her hostel after 11:00 P.M she has to call up her escort, “Hey, I am scared. But I want to go out.” If a molester turns up, she cannot say, “But I had asked for an escort!”

“Declaration of Safety”

The female students and their parents would be made to sign a declaration of sorts according to which the institute would not be responsible for the safety of female student who do not obey the rules. In case of a mishap, the victim will face “difficult questions.”

The “Declaration of Safety” is the epitome of gender discrimination. It is the most appalling of all the measures proposed by the administration of IITM to ensure the safety of its female students. Can one expect the parents to sign such a declaration?

The Ayatollahs of IIT-Madras Mull Safety Measures For Female Students: Moral Policing?

Surveillance cameras and security guards

The administration plans to install 2000 surveillance cameras across the sprawling campus of the institute. In addition to the cameras, it plans to have security guards patrol the campus in plain clothes during the night hours.

The administration is behaving like a nanny state. It has the budget to install 2000 surveillance cameras but it cannot fix certain areas in the campus which are penetrable. Instead, it has handed out a map with the “sensitive areas” in red. These areas within the campus have witnessed many untoward incidents. It is shocking to note that all the major roads within the campus are marked in red.

It is scarcely believable that the Chairperson of the Women’s Forum of IIT-Madras remained muted when these rules were being proposed. The purpose of higher education is elevation of the intellect. If the individual freedom of students is taken away, what sort education will they receive? When the learned members of an institution like IIT not merely support but also promote such draconian rules, a profound contradiction comes to the fore.

How are they different from the cop who blamed the spurt in rape cases on victims? How are they different from those in our society who think a woman to be a figment of someone else’s imagination? If they are one and the same, what is one to say about the alarming trend of moral policing? These are some of the questions which beg reflection and debate.

“The Fourth Estate is defined in a dictionary as ‘The press, including journalists, newspaper writers, and photographers’. As IIT Madras’ official magazine, we are all this and more”, goes the description of The Fifth Estate. The official magazine of the campus cannot even write about the proposed changes, let alone question them. It had published an account of a different meeting during which imposition of restriction on night life was discussed. The magazine took the report off its website after The Times of India ran a front page story on the issue. Was it forced to do so by the administration?

The mainstream media is abuzz with stories on restrictions on the ‘Hostel Night’ celebration, a rite of farewell for the graduating batch in different hostels. However, the above safety measures affecting the 1000 female students in the campus have gone unreported.

In a judgment dated 20th Jan 1999, the Supreme Court of India noted that incidents of sexual harassment violate fundamental rights to gender equality and right to life and liberty. As a result of its policy against sexual harassment, the Jawaharlal Nehru University set up a body called “Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH)” which has the mandate to implement the policy. (http://www.jnu.ac.in/GSCASH/Rules.asp#IX.4) When contrasted with the rules and regulations of GSCASH, the administration’s proposals seem even more ridiculous. Steeped in its myopic vision, it can’t see the big picture.

There is no denying the fact that the administration of IIT Madras is concerned about the safety of the students. However, it is wrongly mixing up the threat faced by the female students with their freedom to move around. The administration is obliged to ensure that the campus is safe enough for the students. It cannot use the proposed rules as a fig leaf to hide its failure to ensure the safety of its students.

The writer is a student of IIT Madras 

courtesy: YOUTH KI AWAAZ



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