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The Desecration of Women’s Spaces: Are We Really Safe Anywhere?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Delhi South chapter.

In a recent incident at Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi, during the college’s annual fest, some men scaled the walls to enter the institute and then went on to harass several students. These men were accused of cat-calling, sexist-sloganeering, groping, and misbehaving with several women within the college premises. Although this is the most recent episode, having taken place on the 28th of March, it is; sadly, not the only one.

In the past too, many such incidents have taken place in women’s colleges. Just a few months ago, in October 2022, large groups of men entered Miranda House, a college for women in the University of Delhi, during a Diwali fest. They partook in trespassing classrooms, chanting sexist slogans, and sexually harassing students. Back in February 2020 as well, a large group of “drunken men” broke into a college festival at Gargi College, another all-girls college of Delhi University. They were said to have molested and harassed the women there. While these outsiders were middle-aged men, those at Miranda House and Indraprastha College were mostly students. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that all these incidents, although slightly different, are downright atrocious in their own way and point to the patriarchal mindset of displaying ownership over women and spaces that belong to them while simultaneously objectifying them.

It’s true that women are not free from the male gaze in any sphere of their daily lives and have to tackle it in some form or the other constantly. However, to think that they can’t escape it even in educational institutions, especially in those made exclusively for them and imagined as ‘safe’ and ‘free’ institutes, is pathetic and heartbreaking. From my own personal experience, every time there is an event in an all-girls institute open to men, we as women are immediately made to feel uncomfortable. The place which on all days is a safe space for us changes with the mere presence of men. I’ve often heard my female friends say, “If even in girls’ colleges we can’t be entirely safe, then where do we go?”

What happened at these colleges is an example of the patriarchal ideologies of objectifying women and exercising control over them. The mystique around girls’ colleges and/or spaces made solely for women has been prevalent in society for a long time. The constant fetishization of the female body and as an extension to that, that of female spaces, is at the root of this problem. Often people joke about how men try to ‘chase’ girls from all-girls colleges, but in actuality, this isn’t a joke. Instead, it reflects the idea that these women are turned into objects of speculation and are seen as unattainable because men don’t have ‘easy access’ to them – again, pointing to the broader, deep-rooted idea of women being the property of men.

The idea of exercising control over women – physical or cerebral – is seen across societies whether it is in familial settings, educational institutes, or workplaces. The incidents that have happened in these colleges are a testament to this exact need of men to do so. At Miranda House, these men chanted slogans of “Ramjas (a co-ed university at Delhi) ka naara hai, Miranda House humara hai” (Miranda House is ours). At Indraprastha College, men were chanting “Miranda, IP (acronym for Indraprastha) dono Hamare hain” (Both, Miranda and IP belong to us) and “Miranda nahin chodha, IP bhi nahi chhodhenge” (If we didn’t spare Miranda, we wouldn’t spare IP). These men trying to enter and claim spaces that belong to women is just their way of trying to take ownership over the “second sex.” The grip that patriarchy has over women – trying to control everything they do and have – is painfully real.

This latest incident at Indraprastha College, the aftermath of which is still being dealt with, is an example of how something that is supposed to be fun for everyone, a college fest, is turned into something horrific. One of the sad parts (for there are many), is that such incidents change absolutely nothing for men. For women though, these become yet another reminder that they’re not safe anywhere, that they have to have their guard up always, that they have to learn how to defend themselves and ‘act properly’ so as to not trigger or tempt men, and the list just goes on. The fact that this isn’t the first instance of men barging into women’s spaces and educational institutions is in equal parts infuriating and petrifying. What does it have to take for it to stop?

Dippanshi Kapoor

Delhi South '24

A twenty year old English major, Dippanshi would rather observe the world than be a part of it. For someone who loves reading, writing, and watching movies, she is afraid she never does enough of any of these things.