Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sexists at St. Stephens: The 1980s Edition

Drop everything and read this fabulous personal-political narrative by Saba Dewan at Kafila about women's fight for equality at St. Stephen's in the 1980s. Lots and lots of cringe-worthy stuff -- not only about the brutish behavior of (a section of) male students who formed an overwhelming majority at that time, but also about the feigned helplessness by the principal and other senior faculty.

Dewan's article is fantastic for bringing that era alive with some luminous writing. The #Epic Win at the end is a sweet bonus. Yet another bonus is that it appears at a time when the fraction of women among St.Stephen's students has gone up to such a level that the admin there contemplated a 40 % male quota, a proposal that, I understand, has been defeated.

[Don't forget to check the comments where several others join in to share their experiences]

... One winter’s morning as we entered the college gates we were greeted by spray painted graffiti on the drive way and walls ordering us to –“Fuck off!” Inside, the women’s locker room had been raided, lockers had been broken open. Women students’ clothes and undergarments had been pulled out and strewn all over the locker room that had violent threats spray painted on its walls.

Dr. Hala made guttural, incoherent sounds when we barged into his office. Mr. Dwivedi the college dean wondered why we were so agitated. It was just a stupid prank. Other senior faculty members were upset by the ‘prank’ but added philosophically that ‘boys will be boys’. It was obvious that apart from offering the usual lip service the authorities yet again were in no mood to initiate some action. In the midst of all these developments somehow some journalists got wind of the locker room break in and began contacting for comments those amongst us identified as being more vocal on the chick chart issue. Next morning the break in had made headline news of some English newspapers; not surprising really given Stephen’s hallowed reputation and status.

College authorities that had so far refused to take either our complaints on the chick chart seriously or had found the vandalism of college property by their students a matter of any serious concern, were now jolted into prompt action by the newspaper reports. Except that in line with the sexist philosophy permeating the institution the action was directed against the women students; especially those amongst us who had been consistently speaking out on the issue. Dr. Hala and Mr. Dwivedi had been unanimous in directing their ire at us for daring to speak to ‘outsiders’ about college issues that they described as ‘family matters’. Patriarchy was in full damage control. Section 144 was imposed within the campus forbidding any meetings or even groups of students to assemble. We were ordered to keep our mouths shut to ‘outsiders’. And our fellow male students, in two and threes took it upon themselves to shadow the more ‘troublesome’ elements amongst the women including me to insure that we behaved ourselves, did not speak or meet or conspire to further bring down the ‘reputation’ of ‘their’ esteemed college. And just to make sure that we were truly terrorized into submissive silence they would keep muttering as they followed us around, the words that had been emblazoned upon the driveway of the college they professed to love so much –“Fuck off!”

Our complaints once again to authorities fell on deaf ears. We had provoked the boys by our irresponsible actions, made them justifiably angry. It was as usual our fault. And so began our discovery of our strength as women. Realizing that our own college had now been turned into a repressive, hard space some of us began contacting students of other colleges, especially women’s colleges like Miranda House. I.P and Daulat Ram College. The solidarity we received was overwhelming. Students across north campus began joining in to protest gender discrimination and harassment of women students within St. Stephen’s College. Those were enriching, wonderful times. Some of our teachers within college like Dr. Tanika Sarkar, Dr. Sunil Kumar and Nandita Narain extended much needed support. Several alumni like Dilip Simeon, Mukul Manglik and Saleem Kidwai too joined in. And a huge demonstration, one of the biggest ever in Delhi University till then, comprising of students and teachers from various colleges and departments protested outside St. Stephen’s College.


  1. Vikram said...

    This was an awesome article. The personal is truly political.

  2. Anonymous said...

    For someone who lives in the US amidst all the Catholic preaching, the quota nonsense doesn't surprise me. Catholicism thrives on superiority of men with absolutely no shame.

    I am afraid I cannot not think of this angle.

    PS: Please feel free to delete this comment if you think this is offensive. Thanks!