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In the Name of Discipline, Moral Policing Haunts Colleges in Kashmir

This college, which boasts of a rich legacy, represented the typical idea of 'safety' for girls by practically caging them.

Sana Fazili | News18.com

Updated:August 6, 2018, 5:14 PM IST
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In the Name of Discipline, Moral Policing Haunts Colleges in Kashmir
In this file photo, Kashmiri school girls wait for a bus while standing on a bridge in Srinagar. (Photo: Reuters)
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It was the final year of our college. Our class wanted to go for an outing before bidding a farewell to college life. However, it wasn't all that easy. The procedure to seek permission for the outing was cumbersome. An application had to be written to the course coordinator who would refer us to the principal. The principal then would decide whether we should go for that outing or not after discussing the matter with some senior professors of the all-girls’ college in the heart of Srinagar.

As we stood at the principal's door with the application, she was intently discussing with her colleagues how to organise the picnic ‘safely’ for this group of almost 30 girls along with their faculty.

Hiring a bus would take some time, they said, and the one that college had was not the safe option. Reason: It had inscribed on either side “Government College for Women, M.A. Road, Srinagar”. They said that eve-teasers might spot it and create trouble for us. As if the signage on the bus was the only way to spot girls and as if we were the last girls left on the planet. Imagine, our identity as the students of a college being a reason for eve-teasing. Caging up, they felt, was the only resort for the safety of girls.

The picnic never happened because by the time the ladies could devise a ‘safe picnic’ technique for us, catastrophic floods hit Kashmir valley and the college was shut for almost three months.

This college, which boasts of a rich legacy, represented the typical idea of 'safety' for girls by practically caging them.

We could not leave the premises before 3 in the afternoon. Discipline, they would argue. But this discipline seemed to be sexist. The boys of the college next door were never bound by such rules. They could come in at any time and leave at their own will. Discipline seemed a weak argument on the other side of the wall of my college.

The committee to maintain rules and regulations was set up in 2013 after a group of girls was engaged in a ‘gang war’. I don’t know what actually had happened, but we heard the group of girls had charged at each other with knives after a verbal duel.

The next day after the incident happened, the discipline committee was all charged up, because the incident was covered by newspapers. People were shocked to know that girls had indulged in such an activity and it brought a 'bad name' to the college.

So, the management of the college, that had almost 3000 students, was transformed into something like a ‘high-security zone’ for the misbehaviour of no more than 20 or 30 girls. Senior professors were now standing at the gate every morning, frisking every inch of the body, sifting through the belongings in our bags. Girls were being rebuked for wearing make-up, carrying phones (I was in fact slapped for having one in my bag).

If a student was found carrying a mobile phone, it would be taken away and returned after a fine of Rs 100 was paid. If they found you carrying a phone for the second time, the fine was Rs 200 and it kept doubling up for every successive time you refused to bend down to the rules that were just for one gender.

Checking at the gate was a morning ritual in the college. But after the ‘gang-war’ incident, the words that kept pouring in from the well-qualified professors were humiliating, to say the least.

It was strange how girls were being judged by what was in their bags. A girl once had a perfume in her bag and the professor on duty kept asking all sorts of irrelevant questions and kept taunting her. I still remember the expression on that girl’s face and how flushed she had become. The professor kept the perfume and asked her to collect it in the afternoon before leaving.

On another occasion, a professor who was on the gate duty to ensure only discipline and virtue enter the college, kept reiterating on high volume as to how wearing certain make-up is inappropriate. By her logic, kajal was fine, but eyeliner wasn’t. “Abhi aap chotay ho. Eyeliner kyu lagatay ho?” she had asked the girls. Logic, it seems, didn't enter the gates of our college.

Recently, after the management of Government Degree College, Baramulla issued a set of rules and regulations for the students, they were up in arms against it. The notice said that the students were not allowed to carry mobile phones, it mentioned a specific length of shirt for girls, it mandated “formal hairstyle” for boys, and it called for separate hang out spots for boys and girls. This kind of moral policing is nothing new.

The diktats have been there as unsaid rules in almost all colleges, for boys, girls and even in the few co-education colleges that the Valley has. Only this time the “code of conduct” has been issued formally. While the college managements call it necessary for discipline, somehow the discipline gets blurred with the question of morality.

It has been more than three years that I passed out from the college. What was in our bags and what was on our faces were more important than what was being taught in classes, if at all anything was being taught.

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