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Divide and misrule

 | June 22, 2012

Not much seems to have changed in the way Chennai keeps it males and females apart!


Thirty years ago, when I left Kolkata to make Chennai my home, the city had its innumerable idiosyncrasies. One of them – that puzzled me no end – was the gender divide.

Men and women, even boys and girls, stayed – or were kept – far apart.

I found to my utter disbelief that no man would, for instance, sit next to a woman on a bus or local commuter train. There were occasions when I saw many seats unoccupied this way with men not daring to share a seat with women. They would rather stand and get tossed about than invite societal displeasure.

On days when I – having grown up in a city where the sexes freely mingled – would absentmindedly take a seat next to a woman, I could feel hostility as if I had broken a sacred commandment.

This “keep safe distance” rule was followed elsewhere too. In schools, in colleges, in cinemas and even in temples.

In theatres, women invariably wanted to exchange their places if they got a seat next to the male of the human species. In temples, the sexes were religiously segregated. Or else, it seemed that the gods would be angry.

Cut to the present day. Not much seems to have changed in the way Chennai keeps it males and females apart!

Some time ago, there was a hullabaloo in one of the city’s most premier educational institutions, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).

The media got hold of e-mails exchanged between the faculty members that spoke of the need to impose stricter but utterly unreasonable restrictions on the students. These mails were doing the rounds at a time when the boys and girls were livid over what they termed “moral policing”.

The Hindu wrote: “From regulating students’ privacy to restricting their Internet access, the proposed ideas seem to take disciplinary measures to a new level of impracticality. ‘Ideally, no LAN’, ‘Open doors and windows’ (in hostel rooms) and ‘Shelving hostel nights and thinning down cultural nights’ — are some of the ideas mooted by professors, some of whom are also administrators.”

Bad habits!

At an open forum held before the e-mails were sent, professors and administrators faced tough and embarrassing questions from the students.

One boy quipped: “I am 21, and what is your problem if I have sex with my girlfriend or whoever it is in the hostel room?” There were others questions like this.

And not surprisingly so.

Away from the IIT, some engineering colleges in Chennai are as dictatorial and conservative. There, boys and girls are strictly forbidden from even talking to one another.

If a boy and a girl are caught even exchanging pleasantry, the college authorities chastise them publicly. They are warned not to develop “such bad habits”.

Supervisors patrol every college bus (which transports students), every corridor, every dining space to make sure that there is no communication between a boy and a girl. What is even more ridiculous is that boys and girls have to use separate staircases.

In the hostels attached to engineering colleges, mobile phones may be allowed, but not “romantic ring tones” lest they evoke love and passion in young hearts!

Several years ago, a professor entered a classroom in one of the colleges and immediately stormed out when he saw boys and girls sitting together. He threatened never to take the class if it behaved so indecently.

All this is medieval madness, but those who impose such curbs must understand that boys and girls (men and women too) would find ingenuous ways to meet and talk and start a relationship.

Without mentioning names, I knew girls in a college hostel who jumped across a wall at night to meet their boyfriends.

I am told that girls in yet another hostel smuggled into their rooms guys in huge boxes. Sounds a bit far-fetched, but could be true, for all you know. Well, who is to stop the call of the Cupid?

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected].in. He is an FMT columnist.


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