So, the New York Times blog did a piece the other day on the inane rules of colleges in India. As anybody who went to college in India can attest, these silly ‘Indian’ rules are mostly applied to girls, not to guys.
My college had these rules for the girl’s hostel-
-A curfew of 9 pm
-A ‘punishment’ period of waiting outside the gate for half an hour, after which a ‘late register’ needed to be signed in order to be let in
-No male visitors ever
– Unless you were permanently moving out after completion of the course and it was your dad/brother/cousin moving your stuff out
-Not leaving the campus during Holi
– A curfew of 7 pm on New Year’s Eve
-Notifying the warden before overnight/out of town trips
As usual it was for ‘our own good’ , and for our ‘parents’ peace of mind’ and to protect us from ‘bad reputations’.
Contrast this with the one and only rule for the boy’s hostel-
No female visitors unless mother/sister
Here’s where it gets really screwed up-
Since it was a medical college, we had on-call duties-day and night- as final year students and as paid interns- for a total of two years. The on-call rooms in the hospitals were ancient- small rooms , with two single beds. There was NO segregation based on gender- we had to share these rooms with guy classmates (some of whom were friends) and male seniors (most of whom were strangers).Not to mention the common washroom.Yes, apparently, parents and reputations fly out of the window when there’s work to be done and people to treat.
In all time I was there- never was a single eyebrow raised at this arrangement- not a single awkward joke or the slightest inappropriate comment. In the hospital, we were complete equals amongst each other and the other staff. (the patients were another matter, many of whom had trouble comprehending that I, the doctor would be the one stitching them up, and the guy with me was a nurse). We girls were expected to perform all procedures, even if it involved handling bits down there- conversely the guys were expected to master gynaceological procedures without being squeamish.
In rural postings, we spent two months in houses in distant villages with male classmates.
Yet , when the day/night was done, and we stepped out into the real world,that mirage of equality vanished. Once back in the campus, we were miraculously somehow ‘girls’ as opposed to ‘students’ or ‘interns’!
That being said, we girls observed the rules mainly by breaking them. If we were late , we made sure we were really late-closer to midnight- so that the watchman (bless his soul) snuck as in. Or we would simply stay over at a friends place- there was no dearth of classmates wanting to ‘help’ us out 🙂 (bless their souls as well!) The Holi, NYE rules were ignored en-masse. And nobody ever REALLY notified the warden when they were taking off- In short, we lived our lives as free as the boys did, and the rules never stopped us from having fun.
BUT this is the thing- we had to sneak around and lie and hide to have any semblance of freedom. It was bad enough to have these rules, but what added salt to our wounds were that the guys got off scot-free.They had no restrictions, absent warden and did pretty much whatever they wanted to inside and outside campus. Yes, us girls ‘breaking the rules’ and ‘being rebels’ was exciting but also on some level …humiliating …the cheap thrills of the disempowered.
As the rules started to get tighter, I started spending more and more time off campus. With my first salary as an intern, I moved out and convinced my best friend to do the same. (We took neighbouring single rooms in a building- the best decision I’ve made in 5.5 years of college) A lot of other girls also had similar ideas, and by mid-year quite a few of us were established outside.
We managed for that year, at age 22, to live the way the ‘boys’ had done their whole lives- answerable to no one.
It was a glorious year.