Women students of Jamia Millia Islamia have scored a small victory over the administration.
On Monday night, the university extended curfew timings for women residing in the college hostel from 8 pm to 10.30 pm – as well as accepted all their other demands – after students protested in large numbers over what they said were regressive and discriminatory policies against women.
It all started on Saturday evening, when a hostel resident was not allowed to collect the food she had ordered online from the hostel gate at 7.45 pm. The students took up the matter with the administration and first wrote a letter demanding provision of food delivery post the 8 pm curfew and late nights till 10.30 pm.
After much discussion, the hostel authorities agreed to give the students a maximum of four late nights in a month. The residents’ other demands were, however, refused.
“Since people were outraged and the authorities knew that students would not settle for any less, they sent a notice allowing late nights to calm us down. But the notice was meant to be a pacifier. It would have worked had we been infants. But we are above 18 and were demanding nothing but our fundamental right to food and mobility,” hostel resident Navya Sharma said.
The outraged women refused the token acceptance and instead increased their list of demands, and continued to protest at the hostel gates until the Provosts and Proctor gave them a proper hearing.
The other demands were for 24-hour access to the hostel premises, reading room and common room, better quality of food, and a guarantee that no action will be taken against any student involved in the protest. After some negotiations, the administration gave in.
When asked about the protest, the Provost of one of the hostels, Azra Khursheed, said: “The demands of the students were accepted swiftly and the matter has been resolved. Jamia is a university that harbours a democratic environment. The very fact that the students protested is a testament to that.”
The women celebrated their victory the next afternoon by taking out a march in the university, asserting their presence among certain members of the student community who argue that women should not be given too much freedom.
On Tuesday evening, a cultural evening was also held for the celebrating women, when they got to know that rules were not being relaxed in one of the hostels as the administration was waiting for a written order for the same. The students again took out a march to the hostel and demanded that the changes be implemented immediately.
Akshit Thenua, a final-year student, lauded the changes. “After hearing that the demands were met, I felt happy as finally the women can move more freely; earlier it was more or less like a cage for them. They can now work on a par with the male students when it comes to field work and other projects,” he said.
One of the hostel residents called it a “proud and historic moment for nameless and voiceless hostellers who believed that endurance was key to ‘overcoming’ it all, when in reality, it is expression and perseverance that work”, adding that “it is our fundamental and irrevocable right to express our anger when we are not taken care of”.
Rightly so. A university should give every student equal opportunity to grow and the administration must make efforts to foster an environment that encourages free thought and dispels all forms of bigotry. Free thought can only be administered in a stress-free and liberal environment.
“The UGC mandates that no university should have discriminatory rules for women with the excuse of ‘their safety’ and that every university should take measures to hold gender sensitivity workshops for the staff and students. Instead, we see a pattern across India that reinforces patriarchal values institutionally,” the hosteller said.
The students of Jamia have other bones to pick with the administration. Their students’ union was disbanded in 2006 and hasn’t been reinstated despite persistent demands for election. For students to exercise their agency without fear, it is important to have a union that is representative, democratic and accountable to the community.
Monday’s victory of women students, however, is testament to the strength and power that women hold when they come together, and proves a huge challenge to the oppressive structures that operate in society. “The women took a stand for their rights. People would call it rage, but it was the power of women uniting and fighting for what has been denied to them for far too long. We took what was ours, what should have been ours for ages,” Zahra Amin, a third-year student, said.