Open Letter for Open Hostels
Dear Student Body,
On 21st July, 2016, The Student Bar Association in coordination with a couple of students will be conducting a survey asking you for your opinion on the creation of gender neutral private spaces on campus. What we are proposing is to allow girls to enter MHOR during specified visiting hours.
There is a lack of gender neutral spaces on campus which often affects both men and women. For instance, the football field is inaccessible to women post 6pm. The common room is the only space for people of both sexes to hang out together. Boys from Himalaya have for the last one year had to go all the way to the boys’ hostel for every meal, despite the fact that the girls’ mess is nearer. These archaic notions of physical separation of the two sexes even in the face of inconvenience and blatant sexism, is problematic. When asked why a common mess was an issue, one of the lines of reasoning provided by the administration was that it could lead to rapes.
The proposal for visiting hours in the boys’ hostel is only one of a series of proposals for more gender neutral spaces on campus which includes a common mess, access for girls to the football field, similar gate timings for women and men, etc.
We recognise that this is a huge change, something that’s never been seriously considered in our time here. And with that comes a lot of apprehension. This particular move, despite its benefits, will disproportionately affect members of MHOR, who are suddenly being asked to open their hostels to women which must seem like an intrusion of sorts.
We’d like to address a couple of concerns we’ve come across before the survey is conducted tomorrow.
– Your hostels will not be teeming with women overnight who will be policing or checking your behaviour. Even if by some miracle (that’s what it’s going to take) the admin does allow this, it’s going to take a while for girls to freely enter MHOR (since our division goes deeper than separate hostels) and it’s going to be a gradual process where you’ll have enough time to get comfortable with the idea of women in your personal spaces.
– You aren’t going to be forced to hear your roommates and people in the hostel having sex all the time. People in college aren’t going to suddenly become insanely attracted to each other, just because they have a room. Of course your roommate might ask you to leave the room sometimes, but you might too someday. More than that, it’s not going to be something you’d want to deny your roommate once in a while and won’t radically affect life as it is. Besides this proposal, despite the fact that people have been calling it conjugal rights, is not about sex. While this will surely benefit couples who don’t have to go to places like Sundarbans or the New Acad., at the risk of being photographed or groped. It also gives a space for men and women to just hang out, watch a movie without having to rely on the common room which is most of the time inaccessible because someone else has already occupied it. And we doubt a bunch of girls entering the MHOR for a couple of hours can make it noisier than it already is.
– You won’t be able to roam around shirtless all the time. Okay we admit, this might be true if you are uncomfortable with women seeing your body (so basically not you Amati). But to put things in perspective this will just be for a few hours on some specified days of the week. In light of the benefits and the fact that we are all used to being fully clothed at home most of the times, it’s not that difficult to get used to.
– Why is it only residents of MHOR who have to compromise and let go of their private spaces? Isn’t it hypocrisy, especially considering first year boys were disallowed from eating in the WHOR mess due to a few isolated complaints? We completely agree with you. We’d all like to see a day when the “No Men Beyond this Point” sign is removed. While it might seem that this proposal is placing women’s conception of privacy above that of any member of the MHOR who may have the same, we think the administration would be much more open to opening the MHOR to women for a few hours than letting men enter the WHOR for reasons that do presume certain things about women and men. (For instance, currently hostel rule allow women to enter MHOR with written permission from the chief warden, but not vice versa). To clarify, we stand for complete open access without any presumptive paternalism on the part of the administration. But we believe that opening the MHOR could be a first step in a process that would culminate in the WHOR doing the same. It is also easier supported as this is the system adopted by various other colleges in India and thus less controversial.
– Making out is not essential and does not warrant a protest. This is not simply about making out. Something one may notice in Law School is that the men are much closer to the men and the women closer to the women. It is not without exception, as nothing is, but to a large extent there is a divide. One of the biggest reasons for this is the lack of interaction between the two. Currently there is class, and the library, but these are places one usually goes to with a specific purpose. We make friends with people we can relate to and form most of our closest bonds chilling in the hostel. The fact that the two sexes do not casually meet in the place as close to home as one gets in law school, perpetuates a system where the guys stay close to the guys and vice versa. If we could sit back and argue about the most random things with the other sex in the comfort of my room, it’s unlikely we wouldn’t be close in general, even as friends.
– Your parents won’t like it. Once again, the way society works, parents are going to be a lot more reluctant to let boy’s enter the girls hostel than vice versa. Given that this model has worked in colleges like IIT Bombay without parental issue, it seems unlikely that they’ll raise a hue and cry. Having said that however, if you feel that your parents would not have sent you to college even with this specific move, we can perhaps modify it to exclude first years (on the same rationale as we impose room-check on them) which might help with the parents.
At the end of the day, it’s your campus and your hostels and we can only request you to give it some serious thought and vote in favour of this move. If you have any other concerns do let us know through the survey so we can address them before we take it to the admin.
We know that even those of you who support this cause, think it’s probably impossible and we should ask for something smaller. But isn’t that the point of NLS. Don’t we fancy ourselves as pioneers of liberal values? Shouldn’t our campus be more progressive and inclusive to reflect that? And if that is a farce, shouldn’t we force the admin to openly acknowledge their hypocrisy instead of letting them get away with it? We think yes. Also realise that if we make enough noise about this at least they’ll be forced to consider that there is a problem which won’t just go away if they continue to ignore it. Maybe they will then allow equal access to the field or make more common (if not private) spaces. But let that not stop us from asking for something that is completely reasonable and even necessary.
Finally, let’s not forget that the starting point for this demand was that a couple was photographed behind Sundarbans. Let’s not forget that people have been groped, watched and ‘caught’ multiple times in the past. Up until now the admin has only dealt with individual complaints and the incidents have subsequently repeated themselves at our cost. It’s time we stop allowing them to be complacent about our safety and take matters into our own hands.
Please do mail SBA or any of us individually if you have any concerns.
The Open Hostels Movement.