‘Big brother’ college a ‘jail’ for gadget-loving girls
A Delhi University college has banned the use of cellphones or laptops in its hostels — a bewildering step in a university regarded as a role model for other educational institutions in India. Even more alarmingly, it is only the women students who are the receiving end of this diktat.
Daulat Ram College, a girls’ only college in New Delhi, has barred students from having cellphones or computers in their rooms. While most of the residents are above 18, they say their rooms do not even have a latch and that supervisors can storm into their rooms at 2 a.m. if they suspect them of having sneaked in a mobile phone.
Resentment over these rules led to a student protest over the weekend, but no concrete step has been taken to revoke these rules so far.
The college, known for its science department, has questioned the need for students to possess laptops or other gadgets. Authorities fear that girls will take nude pictures or watch pornography if they are allowed to keep a phone.
Despite turning the hostel into a virtual prison, the college claims to have been “empowering women” for the past 50 years. And it is not the sole “empowering” force in the lives of young Indian women.
Many colleges in the country have adopted the big-brother-is-watching approach when it comes to legally adult women students. Premium medical or engineering institutes across the country have different rules for girls and boys. In some cases, authorities also prohibit girls from leaving the hostel unless accompanied by “local guardians” who are above the age of 30 and married. Insisting on a conservative dress code, even in cities such as Mumbai, is not unheard of.
In India, girls are not just outperforming boys in schools and universities; they are also rewriting the rules of propriety. They are proving to a formidable force in India’s burgeoning job market, and with financial independence, are also exercising greater control over their sexuality than the previous generations ever did.
But it seems that higher education institutes have not been able to keep pace with changing norms, and instead of promoting a culture of gender neutrality, they are doing the opposite.
Such discriminatory practices also damage India’s chances of promoting itself as the education hub of Asia. While countries such as Singapore and China have started luring the best academic minds from western countries, Indian universities figure nowhere on the top 100 list. It is perhaps time these universities realise that to attract the best students from around the globe — and many of them happen to be women — it needs not just world-class facilities, but also a safe and egalitarian environment. A space where oppression is challenged, not promoted.