The premier IIT-Madras found itself in the midst of a controversy this week, when news spread that hostel administrators, while searching student rooms for banned items, found condoms and decided to ‘name and shame’ the student in whose room the prophylactics were found. The institute denied that they had done so. But several students shared evidence to Express and other media houses proving the contrary.
Other engineering students in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere may have found this a minor infringement on student rights. After all, girls are allowed to visit boys’ rooms at IIT-M. There are colleges in TN where buys and girls are not allowed to speak to one another and moral policing of clothes and behaviour is done even off campus.
However, two wrongs do not make a right. Activists have rightly pointed out that by shaming a student for having used condoms, the institute, which ostensibly aims to treat its students as adults with agency and dignity, has essentially penalised someone for doing something natural, legal and common (have sex) and worse, penalised that person for doing it in a safe way.
The perception that contact between male and female students leads to promiscuity or is a distraction is antediluvian. It is a patriarchal viewpoint that imposes unnatural barriers to interactions that would allow boys and girls to view one another as human beings rather than as crude gender stereotypes.
While IIT-M may seem enlightened in some respects, students have revealed that women who mingle freely with male students are shamed by faculty and administration, which views such mingling in patriarchal terms—improper and immoral on part of the woman. It is that mindset, very much prevalent in India and elsewhere, that asks a survivor of gender-based violence what she was wearing, why she was outside, what she was doing so late at night, why she was with a boy and so on, instead of asking the perpetrator why he did what he did, and holding him accountable for his behaviour.