As I write this, the newspapers tell me that the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind has demanded that co-education be abolished in India to prevent rapes from happening. In their list of 11 suggestions made to the Justice Verma committee on women’s safety, they mention in point three that “Co-Education should be abolished and proper education facilities meant for only women only should be available at all level of education.” Excuse me while I find an appropriately sturdy wall to bang my head on.
Alwar BJP MLA Banwari Lal Singhal some days ago had written a letter to the chief secretary, demanding that girl students be made to wear salwar suits or shirts and trousers as uniform to reduce chances of their being subjected to lewd comments or harassment. The only positive thing about this letter, I found, was that he factored in that salwar suits or shirts and trousers would be better protection from the cold.
A few days ago, in view of the rise in sexual crimes, school girls in Puducherry it was announced would have to wear overcoats. According to school education minister T Thiagarajan, “The meeting resolved to introduce overcoats for girl students, operate special buses for them and ban mobile phones in schools. Our government is committed to ensuring safety of women, particularly girl students.” The overcoats, we presume, are going to be Suraksha Kavaches, keeping these girls safe from the predatory gazes of lust crazed men around them.
Do we seriously think that girls-only educational institutions and covering up the girls will keep girls safe from sexual assault? From street sexual harassment? From being victims of gender violence?
I was educated in a convent school and moved on to a co-educational college for my graduation. All the years I spent in a convent school did not protect me from street sexual harassment on the street while going to and fro to school, in the BEST bus, or even from the louts who hung around on the street outside school, at dispersal time, whistling, passing lewd comments, following girls they had singled out, every single day until going to school became a frightening experience and one learnt one ONLY walked down the road in a group and never alone, one got into the bus in a group, one kept the needle point of the compass in one’s hand, ready to poke when one climbed onto the bus, one sat at the window seat right at the back, so no one could put their hand from the gap between the seat and the wall of the bus and grope you and most importantly, for me, I wore a black shapeless long pullover, every single day, from October to March, in Mumbai’s tropical climate, hoping it would keep those hands from groping, those leers from following me, those cyclists from hitting me and cycling away, laughing merrily. No. I was far from attractive. I had thick spectacles, I was overweight, I was pimply. I was also terrified. So much for our Puducherry minister’s grand solution of those overcoats. This was 20 years ago. I can only imagine how things must have worsened now for young girls on the streets of Mumbai. How it is in the hinterlands, I can’t even begin to imagine.
Despite the right to education that every child enjoys in India which allows children who can’t afford school fees to study at no cost, with even books, stationery, lunch and uniforms being provided at government schools, an overwhelming majority of our girls drop out of school. Among those who do, a majority drop out at the high school level and one of the contributing factors to this dropping out is street sexual harassment. Statistics from PlanIndia.org say that “Seven out of 10 girls drop out of schools before they reach grade 10.” According to a report in Orissa Diary among the leading causes of families making girls drop out of school in Orissa’s Jagatsinghpur district is sexual harassment from the teachers, apart from street sexual harassment on the way to and from school. More recently, four school girls were raped by a teacher and a watchman in Chattisgarh. Other factors include lack of toilet facilities when they start menstruating and also, the family keeping them home to care for their younger siblings, as well as needing them for agricultural work in rural areas. According to IndiaTogether.org, “Teachers compound gender discrimination by asking girls to make tea, wash cups and sweep floors in the classroom, as well as taunting them with statements like, “Why do you study? Anyway you will be sweeping floors and cleaning dishes!” And sadly, most rural parents get their daughters married off when they attain puberty, which spells the end of their education, because they are fearful that if the girls get sexually assaulted they will be unable to get the girls married off. A child counselor once told me that when they conducted sexuality workshops in schools, the biggest issue the girls confided in and were troubled by was inappropriate touching by male teachers.
Read the rest of the post here: http://blog.tehelka.com/is-banning-co-educational-institutions-and-putting-girls-in-overcoats-the-solution/