“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”
– Mario Savio. University of California, Berkeley.
[This article is loosely about the Pinjratod protest that took place at Lady Shri Ram College for Women on 5th November, 2018, in the wake of a series of such protests in institutions all over the country against the unreasonable hostel rules in place for women students.]
Protest is an organism with one brain. Strands of various voices come together as a thick rope in the late evening air, in order to bind what has been binding them. Protest is important. From walking out of prescribed realms to dancing on the junctions of multiple heavy-tarred roads—protest is important. There’s the quintessential beat of the drums, there’s the nervous shuffle of feet and there’s the timed clap of x dozen girls. Protest is important. Standing defiantly, hand in hand, in the face of a restlessly moving traffic of the metropolis. Protest is important.
There’s a journey from angry to empowered, as the unconscious process of feeding off of each other’s energy unfolds. Taking care of yourself need not always mean pleasant affectations that completely override your wants and needs; it may also mean overriding the affectation. Protest is important.
Girls’ hostels across Delhi University, across the country even, in recent years have acquired a reputation for being unreasonable and unaccommodating of the wants and desires of its inhabitants. There has been a general tendency to disregard all attempts at change, resulting in the continuation of decades-old rules and regulations that were deemed ‘fit’ for female students back then. LSR, a place that is sold all over the country as a leading feminist college, requires its feminist girls to be back inside the hostel by seven-thirty sharp. On 5th November, at 5:30 pm, the student body of LSR launched a protest at the front gate of the college. They demanded abolishment of the unreasonable curfew. They demanded abolishment of certain rules of the hostel, like the process of gating students out of the hostel as a form of punishment for breaking curfew. Most of the hostel students are essentially outstation students, with no place to go to in the city in the face of such a punishment. They demanded abolishment of the day-slips system, which requires first year students to get signed permission from the warden to go out even during daytime. They demanded the fulfilment of OBC reservation guidelines, along with infrastructure-accessibility for PwD students. There was also an attempt to understand how funds are utilised by the college and what have been their reasons for non-expansion of the hostel for the longest time.
The Protest continued throughout the night and dispersed in the morning around nine–thirty, after which a GBM took place in the hostel lawns where some of the teachers verbally addressed the demands of the students.
We, human beings, are conditioned into looking at the positives. We try to stay happy with what is given to us. We always look for the silver lining. We look for the sunny spots, because going through life from one day to the next, from morning to night is hard. This unfair competition for air, water, food and jobs in a system that supports some more than the others can be physically and psychologically taxing. For every person who’s richer than us, we will find one who is poorer. If someone’s taller than us, we will look for someone who’s shorter. We are all usefully taught the legend ‘if winter comes, can spring be far behind’. We all learn to live by the maxim ‘the darkest part of the night gives way to the morning’. So it hardly matters if you have a smaller house than them; at least you live in your own house. It doesn’t matter if you live in a rented apartment; at least you can afford a permanent roof over your head. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a roof over your head, be thankful that you are not dead. Many younger and far more innocent have succumbed.
Likewise, they tell us, “So what if your hostel curfew timing is 7:30? In our times it used to be much lower. We never went out partying during our college years, we didn’t even touch a liquor bottle and yet we still had fun.” Of course, the length and breadth of what girls want to do at night outside of college is partying and drinking liquor.
The curtailment of freedom and mobility of women in the name of safety and security is not the lesson we ought to be teaching our young feminist women. By no means is this a tradition that should be upheld. Girls’ hostels all over the country have been getting away with these draconian rules under the pretence of safety and some other things north and south of that, for the longest time. This only means adhering to and being a part of the age-old institutionalised oppression of woman-kind. Teaching Feminism in classes is not fighting the battle.
The truth is, we do not protest half as much as we ought to. Our immediate reality is fractured with disjunctions and deep fissures that we choose to be unaware of. A constant interest in understanding each other’s reality at every level, which is vital for protest culture, is missing. One of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country is also one of the finest examples of Social Darwinism; it’s a traditional jungle of the fashionable and the loud, while the rest are pushed to the sidelines.
We are fed theories, we are marked on memorising. We need to break that cycle ourselves. We need to be careful of who we are when we carelessly go about our days, and therefore be mindful of who we are not; we need to be mindful of what are they like, the people who we are not. Life is not a personal matter. We need to speak to people in order to make the speaking out, when it happens, more meaningful. We are somehow made accustomed to and comfortable with the idea that we are completely responsible for ourselves, that we are enough for and by ourselves. We are made accustomed to the idea that if we try hard enough for long enough, we will get to the place in our minds without breaking any rules and that it’s the same for everybody. But life is not a personal matter. We need to be more aware of our immediate realities. We need to protest more often and protest under one name. We need to strengthen it by being consciously unified.
For many students, this was the first protest they participated in at LSR. Even for those it wasn’t, it marked a starting of something. I went around asking various different people if they also felt a strange exhilarating satisfaction while protesting like I did. I went around asking various different people if all of what was happening meant something to them as it did to me. I went around asking various different people if this made them more liberated in a way they did not know, yet they could feel. They said yes, yes, yes, it did.
Since then, a solution has been offered to the hostellers in the form of major fee hikes and the division of single-seaters into double-seaters. It has been said that with the hostellers’ permission, all or none—ALL OR NONE—of the demands will be in place before January 1st, 2019.
Written by Faryaal
Edited by Eshna Gupta
Photograph taken by Sukriti Lakhtakia