MORAL POLIC­ING IN OUR COL­LEGES

The New Indian Express - - EDITORIAL -

The pre­mier IIT-Madras found it­self in the midst of a con­tro­versy this week, when news spread that hos­tel ad­min­is­tra­tors, while search­ing stu­dent rooms for banned items, found con­doms and de­cided to ‘name and shame’ the stu­dent in whose room the pro­phy­lac­tics were found. The in­sti­tute de­nied that they had done so. But sev­eral stu­dents shared ev­i­dence to Ex­press and other me­dia houses prov­ing the con­trary. Other en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents in Tamil Nadu and else­where may have found this a mi­nor in­fringe­ment on stu­dent rights. Af­ter all, girls are al­lowed to visit boys’ rooms at IIT-M. There are col­leges in TN where buys and girls are not al­lowed to speak to one an­other and moral polic­ing of clothes and be­hav­iour is done even off cam­pus.

How­ever, two wrongs do not make a right. Ac­tivists have rightly pointed out that by sham­ing a stu­dent for hav­ing used con­doms, the in­sti­tute, which os­ten­si­bly aims to treat its stu­dents as adults with agency and dig­nity, has es­sen­tially pe­nalised some­one for do­ing some­thing nat­u­ral, le­gal and com­mon (have sex) and worse, pe­nalised that per­son for do­ing it in a safe way. The per­cep­tion that con­tact be­tween male and fe­male stu­dents leads to promis­cu­ity or is a dis­trac­tion is an­te­dilu­vian. It is a pa­tri­ar­chal viewpoint that im­poses un­nat­u­ral bar­ri­ers to in­ter­ac­tions that would al­low boys and girls to view one an­other as hu­man be­ings rather than as crude gen­der stereo­types.

While IIT-M may seem en­light­ened in some re­spects, stu­dents have re­vealed that women who min­gle freely with male stu­dents are shamed by fac­ulty and ad­min­is­tra­tion, which views such min­gling in pa­tri­ar­chal terms—im­proper and im­moral on part of the woman. It is that mind­set, very much preva­lent in In­dia and else­where, that asks a sur­vivor of gen­der-based vi­o­lence what she was wear­ing, why she was out­side, what she was do­ing so late at night, why she was with a boy and so on, in­stead of ask­ing the per­pe­tra­tor why he did what he did, and hold­ing him ac­count­able for his be­hav­iour.

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