In which age-old shackles rattle again. But be careful, because we’re going to make sure they shatter upon tightening.
“Sab teacher hi kyon banna chahte hain?”
The mild irritation in Nazni’s voice is palpable.
Nazni reports from Chitrakoot in Bundelkhand, and is more than well-versed in how patriarchy plays out in all its insidious, aggressive avatars. She is doing a “youth story” on the ambitions and desires of young girls who’ve wrapped up their exams and are at the cusp of so many thresholds in their life-journeys.And she is demanding answers of these 19-year-olds on why is it that they all continue to make safe career choices. (Literally safe, that is – meaning you will not be exposed to untoward elements on a daily basis in your professional life, apparently, and have hence reduced your chances of being a victim of sexual violence. But literally safe too for the men around you, whose notions of gender norms, and power therein, stay intact when girls’ do). But Nazni is merely indulging in rhetoric here, she knows this like all of us.
Akanksha Gupta, the second year Visual Arts student at Banaras Hindu University, knows of this abyss, also known as the real world. Having faced molestation for over a month on campus, she finally complained to the college authorities. We all know how this goes, right? How many days, months, years, of our lives as school and college students have been ill-spent looking down firmly at the ground as we walk to bus stops, autos, pretending at deafness, because it’s the easier, better, safer option? Even as our minds would process the filth spewed at us, by a handful of loitering boys? And maybe one day, we decide to escalate the matter to the guardians of our education?
Support was not on the agenda for Akanksha though – the utter lack of action on the part of the authorities pushed her into hallabol mode, she shaved her head as a mark of protest. Last week when another girl complained of harassment on campus, she was asked that all-time favourite question of the patriarchies that be: “Were you waiting to be raped?” Followed closely with the second-best “Why were you out after 6 pm?” In an interview with Youth ki Aawaz, the Vice Chancellor of BHU urged the interviewee to “think like a father” when he was asked why girls are always asked that question.
Think like a father. Ah yes, hello patriarchy – throttle me again please, won’t you?
There’s no shortage of stories. Arpita, a B Ed. Student at BHU, told us about the time a much-looked-forward-to out-station trip was cancelled last minute, “because suddenly there was this hullabaloo about who will take responsibility of all the girls?” Her peer, Mamta is irked no end by the “ceaseless rounds of permissions” she and her friends need to take from the authorities, “The boys just whizz in and out and we’re made to feel like we need to justify even breathing!”
Meanwhile, we bat a few eyelids even as students at BHU were lathi-charged at by cops, and told to take an early Dussehra break – ‘told’, meaning forced. Our very own in-house BHU alumnus narrated harrowing tales of imposed evacuations and hostel girls being packed off to their homes where their fathers et cetera await them.
The fact that the BHU protests have taken the country by storm has a lot to do with the fact that BHU is in Banaras, in Uttar Pradesh. The so-called keepers of morality must be going livid just thinking about the dangers of their sacred institutions turning into oh-no-not-another-JNU! Dissent is not a terribly valued occupation or even state of mind these days we know, but both the Chief Minister’s politicising of the episode and the Prime Minister’s avoidance of it – his route during his recent Banaras outing was changed at the last minute – makes it clear that jumla rajniti favours hollow aggression as much as a perpetual maunvrat.
But the roar in BHU, far from being snuffed out by the ear-splitting puja pandals across UP, can be heard echoing steadily elsewhere in the country. The kinds that have led to a 131% increase in girls enrolling for higher studies in many parts of the country, many of whom come from deep inside the hinterland, singing their own versions of that Cyndi Lauper anthem. For every one of the 19-year-olds Nazni interviewed for her story who will tread the safe path, there are those who are also trading those safe dreams for bigger, more risky, better ambitions and desires.
The BHU alumnus in the Khabar Lahariya Delhi newsroom comes from a weavers’ family in Banaras. She’s orchestrating the next Facebook Live, possibly on impositions and women, for the platform.
There is Saumya, a TV news presenter in Banda, who scoffs at the custom of “keeping their girls indoors at all times”.
There is also Shivani in Jhansi who applied her Class XII Science to devise an anti-rape belt.
And gold medallist Ekta Maurya in Faizabad who had her own favourite question to pose: Why is it that girls can excel at academics and yet be expected to don aprons?
And local Banda cricketer Shobha who cites Mithali Raj as her favourite player.
Watch out, father figures. Prepare to have your hands full. Let go some leashes, maybe.