May 30, 2010

Good Girls Don’t Talk to Boys


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.

18 comments to Good Girls Don’t Talk to Boys

  • I am very surprised by this news. I’ve never even heard of gender segregated colleges, where one can get ticked off for talking to a person of the opposite sex (incidentally, was the boy also scolded, or just the girl?). Teenagers standing up for themselves and for beliefs that violate the “traditional ways” are scaring people, and this is the way they try to control the situation. It’s horrifying and extremely depressing.

    Gender segregation is not the only way this is done too. There’s a lot of “family pressure”. My best friend comes from a very conservative family: her parents don’t want her traveling in local trains in Mumbai, they want her to finish college as quickly as possible, and she knows that the latest she’ll be “allowed” to stay unmarried is till she’s 24 (if she pushes it- the ideal age is 23). And as for a prospective husband, of course he has to be Marwari, that’s the only acceptable situation!

    My friend does not believe in this herself: she’s dated guys who are not Marwari, and she doesn’t want to get married by 24. But she’s accepted it as a reality of her life. She says that if she protests, her entire immediate family will be scorned and blamed, that her grandparents will start emotional blackmail of seeing their first grandchild before they die, and her parents will not be able to withstand the constant pressure.

    This is not exactly the same thing you were talking about, but it’s similar. Her parents and extended family are afraid of her making her own decisions: god forbid she marry a non-Marwari, or not marry at all! They’re afraid of her moving away from their traditions. They don’t use coercion to ensure her compliance, but sometimes constant pressure and expectations are bad enough.

  • apu

    Sumedha, I’m not sure about this particular incident, but in general, in these colleges, both boys and girls ticked off. (Yes, they’re equal opportunity that way). And as for your friends story – believe me, this is the reason many parents are quite happy with these colleges. They see them as allies!

  • Khap Panchayats and these colleges and Muthalik and his kind who attack Valentine Day celebrations have only one agenda – that good girls must not talk to boys.

    So called ‘Love-Marriages’ are seen as a blot to the culture, but the real fear is losing control over obedient daughters in law, who care for the aged in the family, and obedient sons who provide these care givers.

    Hard to believe but nobody gives a thought to who takes care of senior citizens who do not have sons and how they plan for their old age. All this is linked to our desire to have a 100 sons and not a single daughter, and female foeticide.

    Freedom for girls to choose who and when they marry would totally change everything. I guess that’s what the society fears.

  • My son studied in a co-ed school and he was scolded for talking to a girl in his class. They even called me to complain about his heinous crime. I took him out of the school. I dont like such restrictions.

  • Vidya

    Lovely post.A colleague of mine recently commented – “You seem to be more friendly with your guy colleagues than your female ones!”.I work in an industry which has a 95% male population,and I’m happily married,not interested in any guys at work in that sense,so this comment came as a shock!

  • apu

    @IHM – yes, it’s all about losing control – of women, of land, of property.

    @ Ritu – unfortunately, these kind of schools seem to be more the norm…

    @ Vidya – my guess is even if you worked in an industry where you were the only woman, there would still be enough narrow-minded (and nosy) folks around to point fingers!

  • Balaji

    I studied in a co-ed school, spoke to the girls in my class and was never “ticked off” or reprimanded for such actions. Writing a blog post based on an information provided by another is the best way to spread rumours and false propaganda! And the news item linked to the other blog post lacks any credible evidence of “Harassment” or “ticking off”. Are you sure that there weren’t any other reasons for the girl’s suicide?

  • Aparna Singh

    Balaji, the article I’ve linked to cites its source, which is a news report in the TOI. Any reason why you don’t find it credible? Because you were never reprimanded is no ‘credible’ reason for saying that it doesn’t happen. I personally know enough kids in engineering colleges in Chennai, who can verify that these rules exist, and they have been previously reported in the media as well.

  • Miweche

    Sad but so true – the comparison between chennai college authorities and haryanvi panchayats

  • Balaji


    There wasn’t any suicide note left by the girl and the connection between the “reprimand” and “Suicide” is a suspicion of the police. All are innocent unless proven guilt. Let the courts decide if the “reprimanding” by the college authorities is the sole reason for the girls suicide. Until then, it makes sense for us to reserve our opinions.
    Coming to colleges reprimanding students talking to the other sex, I think one has to take a case-by-case stance on those issues. There are far more important issues to be addressed in educational institutions than gender-segregation policies.
    Just like you heard “so many kids” in engineering colleges about the gender-segregation, I would like to say that I have heard from “so many kids” about the absence of such policies and neither of those constitute a credible evidence!


  • Whether the girl committed suicide because of the reprimand or not, isn’t the point. The point is that here is an co-ed institution that reprimands students of different genders if they talk to one another. Even if this is one institution out of a 1000, doesn’t it strike you as absurd? Education is not just about learning professional skills, it’s about learning life skills too. And talking to people of the opposite sex is definitely a life skill. When they go out into the world as engineering professionals, are they going to be segregated in the workplace too? Or is it expected that the girls will not work, or will be safely married and thus incapable of any dangerous liaisons. This “there are more important issues” argument doesn’t really cut water. The point of this post, as I see it, is that this practice of segregating young men and women is in fact symptomatic of an important issue – Indian adults terrified that their children will make a choice that isn’t within their control.

  • @ Balaji – I take your point and perhaps I should have said “alleged” and that this was the suspicion. However, as The Bride says, what is critical to note is the absurdity of gender segregation in this day and age. If you have heard from kids about the absence of such policies, sure – that’s possible, not every college has them. But even quite a few do, and that is still too many. Rest – I think The Bride has said it much better than I could.

  • Balaji

    @The Bride
    On the face of it, it does sound absurd to see a student being reprimanded for “speaking” to the students of other sex. A lot of judgment has to rely on “What” is being spoken rather than to “whom” it is spoken. Unless, we know what is being spoken, why bother about it?
    Life Skills – Well, there are many things that Engineering Colleges don’t teach and it is frankly annoying to note that this post considers that speaking to the opposite sex is at the top of those list (In which case, I can be proud of myself to have learnt the most important skill in life!)
    Practice of segregation – Again, it is easy to dismiss it as absurd. But a careful analysis can point out that a lot of women are getting educated only because of this practice. Else, most of them has to be contented with low levels of education which will affect their prospects of empowerment severely!
    @ Aparna – Thanks for accepting the point. A lot of journalists/opinion writers hardly differentiate the point between accused and convicted.

  • @Balaji Not quite sure what the content of the students’ speech has to do with it. Do you have some inside knowledge that they were being unruly or vandalising college property or something? In which case too, the reprimand should pertain to that not to the fact that boys and girls are speaking to each other. But if it was just a private conversation between boys and girls, how is what they were saying anybody’s business?

    I don’t think this post considers speaking to the opposite sex at the top of the list of what engineering colleges don’t teach. But this is a blog that addresses questions of gender relations so that is the aspect it would most naturally focus on. What’s lacking in education in India more generally would be better discussed elsewhere no?

    About segregation, I thought your initial point is that it’s rare or non-existent. So why now discuss the value of it?

    I should stop arguing about this since it seems to be going in circles.

  • Balaji

    @ the Bride
    Contents of the speech – Well, if we were to pass a judgment on a certain issue, we need complete facts. The opinions in this blogpost is made up based on some loose facts and the generally perceived stereotypes! I only sought to give counter arguments to suggest that the other side of the coin is not addressed!
    @ gender segregation – I never said gender segregation is rare! It was non-existent in the institutions that I studied which again is not a conclusive evidence to frame an opinion as much as “many such colleges have enforced rigid, gender-segregation policies”

    If you would like to make something an issue, I think we have to look at all sides of the coin. Gender segregation need not be seen as a serious issue if does not have such a high “negative” impact on the society. In short, much ado about nothing!

  • apu

    “Much ado about nothing” – wow! Why doesn’t gender segregation have a high impact on society? What else is the Khap Panchayats’ diktats but their horror at ‘girls and boys going out of control’? Limiting interaction is only a milder manifestation of the same mindset.

  • Balaji

    Calling “Gender segregation” to be a milder manifestation of “Khap Panchayats’ dikats”, is as good as calling parents reprimanding their children as a milder manifestation of the “Fascist mentality of the society”! Whatever be it, it is still “milder” and if it can be tolerated for some higher goals, why not?
    Gender segregation is in existence in our society in various formats – social and religious. Hence, it is not surprising to see them in educational institutions. In many instances, it is supported by the colleges and parents alike. We are in the first generation of Engineering colleges and co-education at graduate levels. To expect them drastically modern is unthinkable. The previous generations studied mostly in same-sex educational institutions. Asking them to change their mindset is a high ordeal.
    Also, if you are raising this topic of gender segregation, you need to be more clear about why the issue is critical for the development of students. Mere criticism of a practice does no good! Here is a good article on why a particular practice criticised blindly by some sections is actually doing good

  • Sahana

    Sadly, the part about the girl being ‘ticked off’ doesn’t surprise me. A lot of the engineering colleges in Chennai (the co-ed ones, anyway) are very strict about interaction. My sister’s college insisted on separate sides of the bus for girls and boys, and interaction between the two sexes on campus was frowned upon, if the authorities heard about it. It was a pretty restrictive environment.

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