One of the major pre requisites of women empowerment has been increasing educational opportunities for women. Such a need was acknowledged by various social reformers in India followed by Indian forefathers and fore mothers as well. After independence, various efforts were taken by the Indian government to educate women in order to achieve the goal of gender equality. Education was also considered to be essential for women to be independent decision makers of their lives as well as play an important role in the progress of the society. According to census 2011, although there has been a rise in the literacy of women in India (which is 65.46%); it is still far behind male literacy rate which is (82.14%). One the one hand, we have been applauding the ability of women to make their mark in almost every profession (some of which earlier used to be exclusive male domains), the other side refers to various hurdles yet to be crossed over. Talking about higher education in India, the representation of women is less than satisfactory. One of the major means of higher education for women has been the women’s colleges. A women’s college acts as a major space for women to develop their innate faculties by providing numerous activities that include both curricular as well as co- curricular aspects. Not only this, it also develops women’s personality in order to fight against their oppression and inequality in the society. Women get an opportunity to be active participant in activities that result in the development of their personality. However, such a space may also turn out to be restrictive and patriarchal where controlling sexuality of women result in restricting their freedom.
One such incident occurred recently in the Government College for Women, Parade, Jammu when the students staged huge protest against the administration accusing college chowkidars and Principal of adhering to inappropriate language against a girl. The students also raised their voice against the lewd comments passed by faculty members. Some of them even voiced out harassment at the hands of some faculty members. Girls also spoke about the lack of infrastructure including improper washrooms, unclean water and so on. However, the major issue has been enforced dress code. The College Principal while communicating with the media denied all these allegations and cited the reason for putting a check on girls (in terms of strict dress code) by referring to some girls being able to escape from the college. The matter while referred to the enquiry committee by the state government in order to establish the truth does relate to the larger question of gender equality and role of higher educational institutions. It was intriguing to witness self respect as a major claim among these protesting students. In the state of Jammu and Kashmir where discourse around multiple identity politics forms the main topic of discussion, it was intriguing to see girl students voicing out their problems within the educational set up.
The enforcement of dress code may arise for protecting girls and keeping a check on them, such rules are not necessarily applicable to boy’s colleges (only if they exist). The rules of discipline should be applicable to everyone. If a girl wants to wear Hijab or for that matter a turban in order to assert her individuality, they should have the choice to do so. Women colleges rather than acting as shields for protecting women must make them confident enough to face the struggles of life in the world outside. Such education should also help them in developing an inclusive mindset whereby they should be able to work for the needy and oppressed sections of the society. Secondly, breaking rules of the college, in this case late arrival of girl must be dealt with inquiring about the reasons of doing so (or may b imposition of fine) rather than resorting to harsh behavior (in this case passing of personal remarks). A more cordial relation between a teacher and student is of supreme importance for the betterment of educational institutions. The government must look into various facilities including infrastructure of the college the improvement of which was one of the major demands of the students. Students must also make government as well as other educational authorities aware about the problems without letting such activism to be a part of furthering any political agenda.
In conclusion, patriarchy operates both from men and women. As Kamla Bhasin says, “Our struggle is for certain principles and for a society where all men and women have equal opportunities to live, to grow, to participate.” Inculcating a mindset of values like equality, dignity, self respect, brotherhood, Justice is a major role of education. There should be space and confidence to speak up against any form of violence or injustice. In spite of the state in the grip of conflict, we have women setting examples in various fields fighting against all odds including our first female chief minister Ms. Mehbooba Mufti. In spite of criticisms of her party’s ideology or various policies, as a woman her presence and resilience in the male dominated politics of the state is worthy of appreciation. Likewise there are various other women engaged in the day to day struggles of overcoming their subordination within the patriarchal set up. The first and the foremost step is to speak up.
Prety Bhagat, Research Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University