Official’s remark on dress code for girls kicks up a storm

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Bangalore, July 25, 2013: A workshop on ‘Menace of sexual crime against women’ at the M S Ramaiah Institute of Technology (MSRIT) here on Thursday was meant to make girl students feel safer, and capable of dealing with gender crimes. But it achieved exactly the opposite.

Students were appalled when Ramesh B Zalki, Principal Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD), said at the workshop organised by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) that girls needed a dress code and should not venture out of their hostels after 7 pm. Girl students should not walk alone or use the library late at night, he  said.

What irked the students, however, was that Zalki did not speak a word about the responsibility of men on campus, college managements, the faculty and the government in ensuring women’s safety. He instead focused on asking girls to stay indoors as much as possible.

Students did not feel any better with Zalki’s another suggestion that CCTVs and sirens be installed at all places, that could be set off when a girl was being attacked. He, however, did not elaborate. “Girls will go out at night alone, have a good time and come back in the morning. When something goes wrong, the good reputation for academics will be erased and a black mark will remain forever,” he remarked.

When asked by reporters whether men on the campus also had some responsibility, Zalki said, “The minds of men and women work differently.” On how the DCWD would help colleges to ensure girls’ safety, he said they could provide information on safety issues so that colleges could display it at important places on the campus. Besides, the DCWD could help set up police stations on campuses.

‘I want my freedom’

Advocate Pramila Nesargi, who was part of the discussion, lashed out at Zalki and insisted that imposing restrictions on girls was not the solution. If she were a student, she would want her freedom to make the best use of facilities on the campus, she stressed.

“Dress code is not the answer. Shutting libraries is not the answer. CCTVs are often misused. Do not curb the rights of a girl. If she wants to study in the library till late in the night, allow her to do so,” Nesargi demanded.

The solution, she pointed out, was to ensure that all places were well lit, enough number of security guards deployed on the campus and girls empowered with legal rights.

No restriction on boys

Students found that the workshop did not address any of their concerns. “We cannot step out of the hostel after 9 pm. If there is an emergency — academic or medical — it becomes an issue. The boys’ hostel is open 24 hours. Why is our freedom denied? And of course we should be able access the library whenever we need to,” said Poonam Sharma, a student of M S Ramaiah College.

Girls said they faced problems in registering complaints in case of harassment on campus.
“It is difficult to make people believe that you were the victim of an incident. If it involves any faculty, the benefit of doubt always goes to them,” said another student who did not want to be named.

What girls needed was a committee involving students and outside counsellors who could ensure an unbiased hearing on such complaints, said Harsh S, a participant.

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