Friday, August 21, 2015

Thesni Basheer’s Death and the Issue of Male Chauvinistic Educational Spaces

(a college campus- for representational purpose only)

Our educational spaces are fast turning into male chauvinistic spaces where the rules created by the males not only decide the complexion of the instructive spaces but also the quality of the possible recreational spaces. The spaces within the architectures of the educational institutions as well as around them are not really neutral spaces meant for imparting education and skills without heeding to the ideological undercurrents of the state and the agencies that run the given institutions. The rules that govern not only the society but also the homes get replicated in these institutional spaces where often the males get more freedom to move and also opportunities to play out his fantasies.

Stepping into the main gate of an educational institution itself is a territorial incursion as far as a female student is concerned as she suddenly has to re-design and modulate her movements according to the demands of the space design and decision. As I said earlier, there could a tremendous amount of social replications of ideologies within the institutional spaces, however the imaginary freedom that an educational space is supposed to lend to a student in fact facilitates both the male and female students to re-imagine the social space in a different way once he or she enters the main gate of an educational institution. But what she confronts is the reality of the sudden collapse of such an imaginary freedom and a forced introduction into the gendered spaces that clearly curtail the freedom of the students who do not agreed with the dominant (ideology of the male) therefore automatically rendered useless/weak/dispossessed/prone to be vandalized/overpowered and if need be killed.

(some bike stunt)

As our point of reference is a co-ed institution, perhaps the same observations look a bit falsified or exaggerated when it comes to the realities of a segregated educational institution. However, even within the female only/women only educational spaces one could see how the male ideology of the state or the agencies being operated through the principals, teachers , matrons, wardens, leaders, class monitors, house leaders and so on. The sight of the expressions of the ideological differences and confrontation (with the state and institution) taken up by the students themselves in women only colleges are so rare that if anyone attempts such an act would automatically curbed by calling names such as truant, gone, feminist and slut etc. Those who show confrontational attitudes but still are ready comply with the dominant ideology of the state and institutions automatically become leaders where as the ones who are called names for being ‘radical’, ‘different’ or ‘uncompromising’ become intellectuals and social activists. While the former group of people gets chances in the mainstream politics (till they are rudely shaken up to understand that no longer their kind of freedom is expected within the mainstream politics therefore they could relegated to lesser positions or no positions at all) the latter group or group members continue their agitation through playing and ideating identity politics, becoming public intellectuals and social activists.

While exceptional cases could be classified into two as just mentioned above, the majority of the students are supposed to obey the hierarchical spaces created within the educational institutions. There was a time even if the women students were a minority within the co-ed schools and colleges, they used to receive some kind of parity in terms of education if not in terms of facilities. There are not too many evidences or narratives from those educated women of the early twentieth century till the third quarter of the same century. Regimenting the educational spaces in the gender lines seems to be an outcome of the arrival of an economically affluent middle class. The middle class educational narratives as evident in the popular black and white movies of sixties and seventies show that women who go to study in colleges are haughty and ‘occupied’ a lot of space within the recreational spaces and narratives of such institutions till they were dominated and domesticated by the handiworks and persuasions of the heroic characters; who did not leave any stone unturned to curb the women that included a lot of singing and hugging and eventually a tight slap). A little bit of eve teasing was a reality in those days too as getting a BA Degree was considered to be a social as well as economic achievement of the slowly emerging middle class. However with the advent of the real middle class, post-Middle East boom and the post-liberalization, the women’s spaces within the colleges have become a bit more regimented and structured than their counterparts in the black and white era where the educated women went to become the sidekicks of the villain or the sidekicks of the educated hero. That was an educational ‘fall out’ but the spaces were free for them too within the educational institutions.

(Thesni Basheer who was killed in College of Engineering Trivandrum in a freak revelry accident)

The middle class brought all the changes that went absolutely wrong within the educational spaces. The corridors that were used both by the male and female students became the display ramps of the male dominating acts (of heroism). Turning of the corridors and partly the classrooms into the locations for displaying the ‘macho’ acts of boys and young men has immensely contributed in converting the liberal spaces within the educational institutions more male dominated and regimented. This conversion could be connected to the power to spend and flaunt (of the male students) their wealth and health, at the same time it could be connected to the domination of particular political parties and their students’ wings within these educational spaces. The fight for political supremacy has brought in a different scenario in colleges and schools where the corridors, canteens, courtyards, playgrounds and so on become not only recreational spaces but also spaces of/for violence and aggression, which would naturally push the female students to their class rooms, libraries, rest rooms and segregated spaces for recreational activities. The pillars, walls, trees, posts and so on become the spaces for displaying political propaganda that actually creates a sense of alienation as far the female students are concerned. The erstwhile spaces which were called the common spaces, the sidelines of the playground, canteens, corridors, tree shades etc  have now been occupied completely by males, male ideologies and male aggressions pushing women from such spaces. This displacement of women within the campuses has brought in a sort dispossession and disempowerment of women there. They are no longer free to use the pathways and walkways as they could be taken over anytime by the vehicular movements of the boys/young men.

Vehicular presence within the educational institutions also is a post-liberal and middle class phenomenon. There was a time when there were designated spaces like ‘waiting shed’, ‘cycle shed’ and ‘car shed’ within a college campus. Waiting shed was meant for people to hang out till the buses or other vehicles came to pick them up. Cycle shed, as the name suggest was meant to keep cycles. Car sheds were exclusive places for the professors who could afford to come by a Fiat or an Ambassador. It was a rarity. Cycle, though represented movement and modernity at one point of time was not an aggressive machine as it needed human energy to mobilize it. Hence, using a cycle was not ‘macho’ thing and differently designed cycles were also used by women. There was some kind of parity and democracy existed in the using of cycles by both men and women in the campuses. But unfortunately, this situation was terribly replaced by the arrival of 100 cc bikes. Over a period of time these bikes also changed their shape and power and became mediums than vehicles to express the male domination over not only the women, but the spaces where these machines happened appear. We may argue that now a days women also use a lot of two wheelers and occupy social space with their vehicles. But if you look at the design and power of these vehicles compared to the changes of the same amongst the male vehicles you could immediately notice the difference. The new age female vehicles are designed to show their modesty and elegance (with pastel and creamy colors to finish it). Hence, even within a campus, if girls come by such bikes, they do not stand a chance to compete with the aggressive engines that the boys bring in the colleges. The conversion of the erstwhile cycles into ‘bike parking’ and social and economic degradation of the cycles tell us clearly that the vehicular narrative within a social as well as educational spaces is absolutely male and they could kill if they want to assert this male ideology.

(The killer jeep in CET - photo courtesy- The Hindu)

Thesni Basheer was not supposed to die in a road accident. She died in a road accident in her own college campus. She was a B Tech student in the College of Engineering Trivandrum (CET). The campus was occupied by the Onam revelers. Onam is a festival of Malayalis who celebrate the existence of socialism in our myths. With playing in swings, making floral design and compete vegetarian feasts Onam is not at all aggressive festival. If at all Onam has something to do with aggression it is the only act performed by Lord Vishnu in the guise of Vamana who came to send the just king Mahabali to the nether world. However, Onam has nothing to do with aggression or violence. Somehow, the Engineering college students have mistaken all such festivals for occasions of revelry. I do not know why the aggression within campus has always been connected the professional courses in Kerala. Since my childhood I have been listening stories of brutal ragging and resultant deaths from the professional colleges like Engineering and Medical colleges. The college where I studied (University College, Trivandrum) was many times aggressive and violent, and it was completely a male space during the five years in the late 1980s when I studied there. But though known as a bastion of the SFI (Students Federation of India), it has never been connected male aggression over female students or deaths. Somehow these have been connected to the professional colleges.

I do not want to implicate the professional colleges only. The educational spaces have become male dominated. While reporting Thesni Basheer’s death most of the newspapers used exclamatory language while describing the vehicles used by the student revelers within the campus. They were using some Jeep with altered designs in which crude weapons like axe, sword and all are fixed on its body through welding. These design elements may be new to the reporters but these are quite common with a whole lot of vehicle designs especially when they are altered for a purpose. I am not interested in investigating the role of this jeep even if it had caused the death of Thesni Basheer as it was driven rashly by drunken male students. I am not really interested in the identity of the owner. I am not even seriously interested in the politics of the students who were celebrating Onam within the campus. What I am interested is the educational spaces/campuses that have been fast turning into male dominated spaces. The altered jeep which flaunts the weapon designs on it is nothing but a standing evidence to the aggressiveness of the male ideology within the campuses. Thesni Basheer, the unfortunate girl student was not a part of the revelry. Even if she was, she is not at fault as she was walking along the campus road to reach her hostel. But in a male dominated space within the campus where revelers had occupied each inch with their aggression, Thesni looked like a culprit who dared to ‘violate’ the male rules. Her violation was really ‘grave’; she dared to walk while they were driving along the same road. I do not say that the boys were intending to kill. But the idea is that if you trespass, you may be decimated and we are not responsible.

(Aadu Thoma, enacted by Mohanlal in Spadikam and his lorry called Chekuthan, Devil)

This violent death of Thesni Basheer should be a thing of concern to all of us. The boys had even brought an open truck with a name ‘Chekutthan’ (Devil), clearly suggesting their affinity for the character Aadu Thoma, a violent character who denies a Gandhian father in Bhadran’s film ‘Sphadikam’. The violent atmosphere and the aggression of the name of the truck which has been directly lifted from the movie are the clear indications of the thematic as well as ideological intentions of the boys- It is a male dominated place/space and you, girls do not have any role here’. The subtext of this film reference also tells us that even if there is a woman present there, she should be someone like ‘Silk Smitha’ whose body is available for the heroic male. Her body could be used, violated and if need be killed by the devilish desire of the hero, still he would be exonerated. This is a dangerous situation. And it is high time that we de-chauvinise our college campuses. There should be very strong protests against this incident and it should be fought both on ideological/theoretical and practical levels.

Post script: I am surprised by the fact that these boys are still referring to the films of those actors who are in their late fifties now and the ideology that they presented in their movies looks more or less defunct in our present conditions where films like Premam, Vadakkan Selfie etc make huge hits. 

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