I was born and brought up in rural Haryana. I have had a mixed experience as far as segregation is concerned. During the first ten years of my life, we used to play together with boys and girls. It was possible because all of us were siblings and belonged to the same community. Beyond that from primary to high school, we socialized in a co-education school but in a segregated/filtered form. We would behave with the girls in a strange manner. We almost had no interaction and were made to sit in different rows in the class, all of which contributed to how our minds got socialised.
Further, we would play with boys only. We played selective games such as cricket, kabaddi and wrestling which strengthened a masculine behavior.
After high school finished, we moved to a city. I was in a school where there were separate shifts for boys and girls which further contributed to me being used to segregated spaces. Living in a boy’s hostel added to this. Struggling with the dilemma of subject selection, settling in an urban setting, took me almost a year. Then, I joined a street theatre group. It shook my earlier perceptions and mindset in a positive way.
I attended a week long theatre workshop where I saw young boys and girls interacting and playing together in a relaxed way.
Due to my socialisation during my early years, this incident was unacceptable for me and clashed with my ideas of gender based segregation. It hurt me a lot and I cried while sharing my discomfort with the group. In this gender inclusive space, I was a completely different individual as compared to what I was during my childhood.
Parallelly, outside this closed group, I was still struggling with segregated behavior which alienated me in my friend circles. Eventually, all of this resulted in me not being in touch with most of my college friends except a few. Segregation is so dominant that I remember some friends from school and college who thought that if a boy touches a girl, she would conceive.
Well this process of life and learning did not stop here. When I entered the professional life, it marked the onset of what I choose to call the golden decade. Working in the community of Haryana I realised how segregation is still a challenge. The reality of a space like the theatre group was not how all spaces were.
A school in Haryana reminded me of my childhood. There is an all girl’s school which is situated in the center of the village and has high boundary walls with spikes and wires. Both the gates are closed with a lock making it almost feel like a jail. While interacting with a female teacher, about the location of the school, I came to know that it was specially built for girls, so that they don’t go out or run away with any boy. She added that this control is necessary we cannot trust these girls. The community had these long term measures in their minds while building this school.
Segregation is driven by patriarchal mindsets and it affects the life of both men and women but it especially hampers the mobility of women. I chose to end by sharing this story to point out how gender based segregation is being used to police women in the name of safety.