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17th March 2017

Holi curfews placed on female students in Delhi

The curfew placed on female students during the spring festival is not the first of its kind, and the campaign against it has now garnered international attention

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported on a curfew placed on female students in Delhi during the celebration of Holi.

Holi, an iconic Hindu festival (also known as the ‘festival of colour’ or ‘festival of love’), is well known for the practice. The spraying of colours on crowds of people dressed in white has been taken up across the world.
The spring festival, however, was off-limits to two women’s dormitories at the University of Delhi.

A memo released by Delhi University International Student House for Women, cited by The Guardian and The Independent, stated: “Residents and female guests will not be allowed to leave or enter the premises from 9 PM on March 12 till 6 PM on March 13. No late night permission will be granted on March 12 and those desirous of playing Holi should go outside the residential block within the hostel premises.”

The statement claimed the restriction would be in “the interests of the residents”. Women celebrating have previously complained about the inappropriate touching and examples of sexual assault that are commonplace amidst the large crowds.

Sabika Abbas Naqvi, the president of Delhi’s student hostels union expressed to The Guardian: “The idea of consent does not exist during Holi.” Nevertheless, Naqvi, as well as students across the region, spoke out against the removal of women from the public sphere. In a report by The Washington Post, political science graduate Utsa Sarmin said, “the city will become safe not by having fewer women in public spaces after dark, but by having more women. When will they get it?”

The curfew during the internationally-celebrated festival reached news across the world. However, curfews as early as 6.30pm have been placed on many female students across India for the last few years.
The curfews which prevent many young women from enhancing their student experience are claimed to be saving them from sexual assault. However, in an article by Prachi Dupta in Cosmopolitan, she says these curfews “perpetuates a ‘blame the victim’ mentality in a society where incidents of sexual assault are on the rise”.

Many have asked who the curfews really benefit, particularly, as reported by PRI, the curfews are “so strict that some wardens don’t even let women inside even if the women are a few minutes late… which arguably puts her at risk of being attacked.”

Student-led female empowerment groups Pinjra Tod and Break the Cage have vocalised their opposition to the discriminatory curfews, staging protests, late-night marches and signature campaigns. These groups formed, as reported in PRI, after the “prominent Jamia Millia university here in New Delhi announced last month that it would no longer allow its women residents to stay out till 10pm twice a month anymore.”

These groups, alongside the Delhi Commission of Women, claimed the curfews were an example of gender discrimination present across universities in Delhi. Alongside an open letter raising their concerns, the partnership launched an online petition and Facebook page in protest of the restrictions, reaching nearly 1,500 signatures.

So far, the campaigns have seen little success in changing the curfews, despite having now gained worldwide attention. India’s minister for women sparked outrage on International Women’s Day after saying female students need curfews to protect them from their own “hormonal outbursts”.

As Agence France Presse reported, Manekha Gandhi said: “You can make it [the curfew] six, seven or eight, that depends on college to college but it really is for your own safety”.

In solidarity with women living in a rape culture, the University of Manchester, alongside many education institutions across the world, host the march and celebration Reclaim The Night.

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