During my undergraduate study, I lived in a girls’ hostel in Delhi. The hostel was about an hour away from my college. However, my parents had chosen the hostel, because it gave them a sense of safety. This was the first time their daughter was moving out of the house. That too, in a city ‘like’ Delhi. A hostel with stringent rules seemed to be the best option!
What were these rules? To list a few, we had to be back inside the hostel by 7pm latest in summers and even earlier during winters. Post 9 pm I could not even be outside within the hostel premises. All doors used to be locked. We could not wear shorts or skirts during roll call or for dinner. The caterers were men and we should be ‘decently’ dressed.
There were official rules and then there was an administrator, a man in his late fifties who was and is lauded for having transformed the hostel into a place where ‘respectable’ women lived safely. He held power which could not be questioned. Why? Because, he was keeping a bunch of women who were away from their families safe in Delhi. Isn’t that something? I remember him telling us once in an open house, “Make all the boyfriends you want. But, remember, men don’t marry such women.”
I don’t think I can cover everything that was wrong with that hostel in this blog post. Also, it’s not as if this particular situation was unique. This is the norm across hostels in our country. In the name of safety, my mobility was restricted. I could not be a part of extracurriculars at college or sit in college library and read because there was no time! I was often forced to take autos charging me exorbitant prices, because if I was even a few minutes late to my hostel, I would have had to stand for hours and listen to the administrator tell me all about what’s best for me. I could not raise my voice against the discrimination, because that could mean me losing the hostel seat.
I wanted to move out. I could not take it anymore. Everytime, I would explore the option of moving out to a paying guest accomodation or to an independent flat with a friend, my parents would ask me to reconsider and just get through. They did not dismiss me. However, for them there was nothing safer than the hostel. For them, it was the best bet. I don’t blame them. They could not overcome their fear. Also, it’s not like spaces like paying guests function on egalitarian principles. Hell, people don’t even want to rent out their houses to single women! Who wants the headache?
The hostel was just one aspect of my life. I am sure you realise the different levels at which I was discriminated against because I am a woman. Imagine, the discrimination and violence that women face through their lives. Imagine how living with this constantly will lead to frustration and disillusionment.
Twenty-five years into my life, I know I still dream of a better world. I say ‘still’, because I remember distinctly all the times I have felt defeated. How do I change everything that is wrong with our society? Who all do I fight? Am I enough? Will I see anything change in my lifetime? Is it even possible? I think, at some point, I also realised something very important. Why should I think I can change it all? Why don’t I just do what I can? This realisation led me to harbour a firm belief. If all of us who dream of a better world can just take care of ourselves and a few things within our ability, it will all add up to something. This belief helps me get through all those moments of helplessness. It helps me not give up. It helps me be a someone who is still full of hope.