Segregation of gender would directly detriment a culture of empathy and mutual respect. (Photo: iStock) 
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Is Gender Segregation the Only Way to Control Sexual Harassment?

I have always been proud of being a Mumbaikar. And mind you, I am not speaking about the much used word ‘resilience’. I am speaking about the fact that despite all the challenges and disputes that make it to the press, to me, the heart and vibe of Mumbai is still an epitome of inclusiveness. Hence the news about the notice by the principal to segregate male and female students by the Government Polytechnic College left me completely shocked.

Well, whenever I go to outstation colleges, I say it jokingly that “as a homosexual man, I couldn’t have wished better for all the men and women out there. Who wants to look at the other popular sex anyways? It is not of my interest at all!”

I wrote extensively here in The Quint about the Kerala education minister wanting to segregate boys and girls. Though I hate to generalise, I should say that I thought there is a little difference between Appam Land and Vada Pav land. Apparently, there isn’t. There are samples of hate sprinkled generously everywhere. Some intelligently disguised as protective measures for the very women it discriminates against.

Swati Deshpande, the principal of Government Polytechnic College, makes some observations and draws a few conclusions, detailed in an article reported by The Indian Express.

Let’s begin with the most common excuse – that ex-students would come and harass female students. While it cannot be disputed that there could be cases of harassment, is segregation of sexes the only way to tackle this? Wouldn’t it be more prudent to breed a culture of empathy, good behaviour and tolerance to people of different sexes? Sex segregation is the easiest way out. Breeding an equitable culture that respects equality is a tough job as it requires a task master to imbibe the right values in their disciples, so they don’t go awry.

I understand single sex schools, colleges and the argument about the benefit it offers students who feel less intimidated by the other populous sex in their midst. I may disagree with the argument, but the argument has weight.

However, when it comes to colleges, I think we should start treating students in their late teens and adult students as adults. After all, they have to set out in the corporate world after this. There is no “bhai sahib” and “behenji” in two different segments in the corporate world. Spending time with the other populous gender in a non-segregated space is more about acquiring life skills to cope with assault and day-to-day challenges. Will all the challenges that the students face – eve teasing, bullying, harassment - magically end when they join the corporate world?

And why do we look at the worst case scenario always to make an example out of it? We have so many co-ed colleges where students have been prolific in their studies and co-curricular activities. Why not take that as the good example of non-segregated co-ed education instead?

The principal also made a unscientific statement about PCODS or Polysystic Ovarian Diseases. She is reported to have told the Times Of India, “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”.

Firstly, hormonal imbalances and genetic make-up play a role in creating PCODs. I have worn a sari in the Pride, and I still feel the same way as a man would feel. I don’t feel like a woman. Similarly, most of my older female friends dress in jeans and tee shirts and they have absolutely fabulous children.

PCODs are determined by thyroid tests and by measuring blood glucose levels. If madame principal would tell the scientific world the source of her “alternative” facts, it may serve as a good ready-reckoner for the scientific community. Maybe, madame principal could also win herself a Nobel Prize for medicine if she shares her research papers.

Moreover, speaking about “gender role reversal”, Ms Swati Deshpande exhibits high level of transphobia. What’s wrong in dressing like any other gender? Why do people need to stick to the norms of gender identity forced by the society? Why is Ms Swati so uneducated about sexual orientation and gender identity?

She also speaks about the “natural urge to reproduce”. PCOD aside, Ms Swati echoes the sentiments of thousands of mindless freaks who stress on reproduction as the only natural and normal course of life. Hence, women who cannot reproduce are termed as baanj (barren) and men who can’t reproduce are termed as na mard (impotent). They are highly discriminated against.

The Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community is highly discriminated against on this “natural-unnatural” factor. The fact that two men or two women cannot reproduce while having sex with each other becomes a point of validation of their “naturalness”. Does Ms Swati know how many people attempt suicide, suffer depression because they are forced into gender roles, or are blamed for not bearing children? She does the same.

Quite frankly, there needs to be a few moral codes for head of institutions to follow. They cannot make statements without checking facts and social threats that such discrimination poses. There is no better way of putting this point across – the principal is unfit to head the institute with such ingrained unscientific bias. She better be shown the door.

And to the students of Government Polytechnic College, I’d say, “Keep up with the revolt. No one has the right to tell an adult how to dress and who one should meet. Not even parents.”

I said it!

(Inputs: Times of India, Indian Express)

(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children and animals. ‘Rainbow Man’ is Harish’s regular blog for The Quint.)