GOOD GIRLS DON’T TALK to Boys. And vice versa, although an exception may be made for good boys who are simply lured by bad girls.
Recently, I came across this new item that talked about a young girl in a Chennai engineering college who killed herself because she was ticked off for talking to a boy. It wasn’t just the scolding she received which precipitated the suicide, but the fear that her parents would have been informed of her heinous crime – talking to a boy.
Strangely, this new item did not shock me. For those of us who have spent many years in Chennai, the ultra-conservatism of its colleges, especially those offering professional courses, is no news. For years now, many such colleges have enforced rigid, gender-segregation policies. Some of their diktats include no conversation between male and female students and separate seating areas on college buses and in classrooms. Lecturers are asked to strictly enforce these policies and some colleges, like the one in this instance, have even installed cameras to monitor students.
All this is done in the name of ‘preventing distraction’ and asking students to ‘focus on studies’. The fact that college administrators deem 18-20 year olds as incapable of managing their own academic work without coercion, says something about the quality of education these colleges impart. Surely, if they had any confidence in the calibre of their own teaching and infrastructure, they would be confident of enabling students, not coercing them.
Beyond that, there is a deep-rooted fear of ‘children getting spoilt’, and of course, interaction with the opposite sex is held to be the root of all spoiling. Dig deep enough, and at the base is the fear of young people making independent decisions on their own lives – decisions that could challenge long-held beliefs about marrying within the boundaries of caste and social status. Rein the girls in long enough (until they finish studying) and get them married soon after (so that they don’t have time to fall in love with the ‘wrong’ person). College authorities are not isolated tyrants – many are the parents I’ve seen supporting them enthusiastically in their gender-segregation drive.
As young people in India begin making their own decisions – whether it is in the matter of careers or partners, the ire of those in authority becomes manifest. Haryanvi Khap Panchayats and Chennai professional college administrators bear a closer resemblance to each other than may be obvious.