Mumbai saw the implementation of the problematic ‘protectionist’ system for girls when in order to prevent cases of harassment and molestation, the Government Polytechnic College in Bandra introduced separate seating for male and female students in the college canteen. The principal, Swati Deshpande, told the Times of India that former students often came to the campus and created a commotion at the place, making girls uncomfortable. An incident was reported to the police in October 2016.
“Former students enter the campus and create a ruckus in the canteen, they misbehave with girls. In fact, one such incident had to be reported to police in October. Also, the canteen is shared by 13 different offices (government offices). The girls did not have any separate seating area. Therefore, we decided to divide the canteen. There have been no complaints,” she was quoted saying.
To make matters worse, the principal also has her own theories about gender roles, their relationship with clothes and reproductive systems. She told the newspaper that women who dress up in men’s clothes start behaving like men and undergo gender role reversal in their heads. As a result, they suffer from Polycystic Ovary Disorder (PCOD) because their natural urge to reproduce gets killed at a young age, she remarked.
“I have heard theories on why girls suffer from PCODs (Poly Cystic Ovarian Diseases) at an early age. When they dress like men, they start thinking or behaving like them. There is a gender role reversal in their head. Due to this, the natural urge to reproduce diminishes right from a young age and therefore they suffer from problems like PCODs,” she told Times of India. To prevent this, she wants the female students to not wear trousers and shirt but salwar and kameez. Not only is her theory unscientific, it is based on severely archaic ideas of how genders are strictly compartmentalised and that there can’t be any fluidity. Through her statement, she also posits women as essentially reproductive machines and talks about motherhood as a compulsory duty and not as a choice.
The very antiquated and problematic segregation system reinforces the fact that women need to be protected because harassers simply can’t learn when and how to behave. It also puts the onus of safety on the women without once bringing the idea of educating or informing those who are responsible for it. After segregation, if a woman happens to go to the ‘male zone’ and is a target of harassment, the perpetrator will most likely get off easily. Instead, questions will be raised on why the woman was in the ‘forbidden’ area in the first place. The protectionist ideology also enforces the fact that women inherently will not be able to take care of themselves and thus need to be put in a separate place altogether to ensure safety. The assumptions of this system are manifold. A sex segregated world also squarely blames only one gender for all harassment and molestation.