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Javadekar's 'feminism' fails to impress Jamia's female students

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar spoke of empowering women through education while inaugurating a new women's hostel at the Jamia Millia Islamia on 28 September, a day after a section of women hostellers wrote an open letter to him citing gender-discriminatory rules against female residents and protesting his visit.

Javadekar received a grand welcome, including a hand-painted portrait of himself, at Jamia, the first central university in Delhi he has visited since assuming office. The event on stage began with verses from The Quran, and was interspersed with patriotic songs performed by students in Urdu and Hindi. He unveiled the plaque of the 400-seat Begum Hazrat Mahal Hostel, and later even went to the hostel building to take a look.

The minister sounded almost feminist as he spoke of how women had been treated as slaves and as objects for consumption for centuries, and what a great loss it was to humanity that women had not been allowed education for hundreds of years.

Javadekar spoke of communal harmony and how education entailed respecting each other's customs

Recalling social reformers Savitribai Phule and Maharshi Karve, Javadekar emphasised how educating the girl child was one of the priorities for the Modi government through the 'beti bachao, beti padhao' campaign. He cited a couple of examples of how the BJP government had made access to schools easier for girl children at the local level.

He also spoke of communal harmony and how education entailed learning to respect each other's cultures and customs, which was pertinent given Jamia's minority institution status.

Javadekar said the government had increased the supernumerary seats in technical colleges for students from Jammu and Kashmir from 2 to 10 and that students had enthusiastically availed these seats despite the recent unrest in the Valley.

He also spoke of the need to increase the academia-industry collaboration in research, mentioning his ministry's programmes like Ucchattar Avishkar Yojana, Imprint and GIAN. Jamia Vice-Chancellor Talat Ahmad said the university had started 15 courses, including Sanskrit and Yoga, in the last two years.

As Javadekar has talked about before, he again made a passing remark about the importance of students rebelling and questioning the status quo. He promised the students that the next time he came to campus, he would hold discussions with them.

Meanwhile, there was predictably no mention of the issues cited in the open letter written anonymously by some women residents of the hostel that went viral the day before and was published in the media on the morning of Javadekar's visit.

Opposition to Javadekar's visit

Jamia Millia Islamia

On Tuesday, the letter was published on the Facebook page of the Pinjra Tod campaign, which seeks to fight for safe, affordable and non-gender discriminatory accommodation for women students across Delhi.

The letter explicitly stated that Javadekar was "not welcome" on the campus and called out Jamia for its "regressive" hostel rules that sought to "restrict the mobility of women students". Women residents have a curfew of 7.45 pm, and there is "frequent issuing of show-cause notices to the students who arrive late by just five-ten minutes".

"According to the rules, a student is to be expelled from the hostel after she has been given three show cause notices. Women students in the hostel are now being questioned on the kind of clothes they wear and character assassination and moral policing has become a common occurrence in the hostels," the letter said.

The men hostellers, on the other hand, are not required to stick to any curfew.

An open letter by the Pinjra Tod campaign explicitly said that Javadekar was not welcome

It said the Provost had issued a notice to the women residents of the new hostel, which has been functional for almost a year, that made it mandatory for them to be present during Javadekar's visit.

The letter read, "...it has been made compulsory for all the residents to attend the event and to behave like "good girls". People who fail to show up will be issued a show cause notice and have been warned that they might even be thrown out of the hostel."

The UGC regulations clearly states that "concern for safety of women students must not be cited to impose discriminatory rules for women in the hostels as compared to male students. Campus safety policies should not result in securitisation, such as over monitoring or policing or curtailing the freedom of movement, especially of women employees and students"," the letter said.

"We do not feel you have any legitimacy to visit a women's hostel, since your ministry and UGC have completely failed to ensure implementation of these regulations by universities... You do not have the right to visit any women's hostel in the country as long as these hostels remain spaces where women are imprisoned, humiliated and controlled. Your government's role in repressing student voices of dissent and resistance and your ministry's role in the death of Rohith Vemula fills us with rage and anger. No Mr. Javadekar, you are not welcome in our hostel. And yet we must compulsorily sit and fake smiles and claps as you arrive tomorrow, because otherwise we risk a 'show-cause' notice and expulsion from the hostel", the letter concluded.

A women student of Jamia speaking anonymously told Catch that following the media publicity of the open letter, the Provost had issued another notice on 28 September morning, saying it was no longer compulsory for the women residents to attend the inauguration.

Another woman student said on condition of anonymity, "The university does not even have a proper committee for cases of sexual harassment, the contours of the committee are not properly demarcated. The biggest failure of the university is that it has failed to give voice and space to its women students."

First published: 29 September 2016, 10:47 IST