Pinjra Tod (Hindi: पिंजरा तोड़ Break the Cage) is an autonomous women's collective of students and alumni of colleges from across Delhi, India that seeks to make hostel and paying guest (PG) accommodation regulations less regressive and restrictive for women students, with the idea of reclaiming public places. They work towards countering the 'security narrative' which is structured around securitisation of the bodies of women and patriarchal protectionism. Challenging the CCTV-driven police-security complex, Pinjra Tod demands that 'safety' and 'security' not be used to silence women's right to mobility and freedom. Their primary demands are against imposing of 'curfews' on women, demand for affordable accommodation for women, regularization of PGs, and constitution of an elected Internal Complaint Committees for prevention, prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment in the university space.
The movement has no founders or leaders, it is an amorphous bunch of activists and students, who place themselves on a continuum of women's movements of the past and the ones that are yet to come.
In 2015, when Delhi’s universities reopened after the summer break, Jamia Millia Islamia had issued a notice stating that the female students of the college could no longer request permission to stay out later than 8 pm. This was followed by a counter-action from the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), demanding the Jamia administration for answers on why it found it necessary to impose such a restriction on women. Later, a student from Jamia wrote in an open letter to the Vice Chancellor, stating that not only was the revision of the rule that was restrictive, rather, the pre-existing order of rules too called for parental permission or local guardian's consent to authorize a night out to women. This, she called a violation of women's 'Right to Freedom.'
Upon getting to know about the DCW's response to Jamia, a group of women students identified this as an opening to make larger interventions at the level of not just Jamia but also other Universities across the capital city, Delhi. They decided to circulate a petition to extend the discourse which was sparked off by the Jamia incident to initiate a discussion around questioning the exclusive and exclusionary nature, composition and forms that University spaces harbor. Pinjra Tod has mobilized people around several issues faced by female residents of hostels and PGs such as curfews, policies that apply to only women, moral policing, higher prices for women's hostels, among others. It is also focused on ensuring that universities establish a sexual harassment committee, as mandated by University Grant Commission (UGC) guidelines in 2006.
Since then, the movement has seen active participation from students of several colleges, especially from Delhi University, such as Jamia Milia Islamia, Ambedkar University Delhi, Hindu College, Lady Shriram College for Women, Delhi Technical University. The movement has garnered momentum across the country, with students from several colleges, such as NIT Calicut, IIT-Roorkee, Punjabi University, RMNLU Lucknow, using the Pinjra Tod identity to raise several issues and patriarchal policies women face in their campuses.
Pinjra Tod, after gathering signatures on the petition to the DCW submitted the same in a mass deputation, a 'Jan Sunwai,' at Jantar Mantar on 10 October 2015. The Jan Sunwai was a public hearing to air complaints and to submit the signature campaign done through class-to-class campaigns and online petitions. As a prelude to the Jan Sunwai, they initiated a procession on 8 October 2015, in the North Campus of Delhi University to symbolically reclaim the night. Women from across colleges gathered to sing songs of protest, chant slogans such as 'We Don't Need No False Protection' in the march that lasted for about 5 hours.
On 24 October 2015, Pinjra Tod called for a protest outside MHRD, to 'gift' Smriti Irani, the then Minister of Human Resource Development, the various rule books of hostels. Rebutting her claim that, "Women in India are not told what to wear, whom to meet and where to go." The event was titled, 'FYI Smriti Irani,'
On 16 December 2015, Pinjra Tod organised a multi-city protest called, 'Bus Teri Meri, Chal Saheli,' three years post 2012 Delhi gang rape. The idea was to use public transport at night and reconfigure public spaces which are always already assumed to be posing 'danger' to women. The initiate challenged the patriarchal ideology which imagines women only in terms of violence in the discourse of violation of security. Parallel demonstrations took place in Allahabad, Kolkata, Pune, Bangalore, Delhi, Darjeeling, Chandigarh and Patiala. Similar protests were repeated in December 2016, where women were seen in the heart of the capital, Connaught Place, New Delhi, challenging the 'cautionary lesson' to be drawn from the incident which only leads to, "Women’s bodies becoming the site of increased surveillance and control. The family, the police, the government and the university respond by imprisoning women with strict deadlines, ‘disciplining’ them with norms of proper dressing and moral behaviour — in the name of security measures that do not attack the root cause of rape or create an egalitarian space in the society for both men and women."
In February 2016, the group released a statement after charges of sedition were slapped against JNU students. The statement was called, 'No Nation for Women,' and it addressed the question of nationalism- unpacking the 'anti-national/national' binary and how the very idea of nationalism is built on layers of exclusion of minorities. They group answered the calls to 'Bharat Maata Ki Jai,' with 'Bharat Ki Mata Nahi Banenge,' with the end to prove how hyper masculinity often masquerades as patriotism.
On 2 May 2016, the UGC published in the Gazette of India, a letter regarding Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions. On 7 May 2016, the DCW issued notices to 23 universities and two institutes, acting on Pinjra Tod's report. Acting on the compaint submitted to the DCW by Pinjra Tod in November 2015, regarding discriminatory rules in several women's hostels in Delhi. DCW later, also issued notices to seven colleges asking for an explanation regarding why hostel curfew timings differ for men and women.
Public art and music
Within weeks of the movement's inception, there was wall art and graffiti painted across North Campus with Pinjra Tod's name symbolizing women's political assertion. Representational drawings of birds escaping from cages were to be seem reclaiming the walls of patriarchy.
On 22 July 2016, Pinjra Tod in collaboration with RELAA collective organised an evening of protest music at Arts Faculty, North Campus called, 'Andherein Mein: An Evening of Protest Music with RELAA Collective,' which is a group of cultural activists from across the country.
In October 2016, Pinjra members from Ambedkar University painted graffiti in response to anti-feminist wall art.
Following the disqualification of Lakshya, the theater society of Kamla Nehru College, for using words like 'bra' and 'panty' in their play at a theater fest organized by Sahitya Kala Parishad on 13 February 2017, members of Pinjra Tod performed a piece titled 'An Ode to Bra, Panty and the Sahitya Kala Academy' in protest of the disqualification. They also left behind bras hung on the outer wall of the Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts, where the performance took place, to protest the stigmatization of women's undergarments.
On 21 September 2015, two female activists of Pinjra Tod received a phone call from a man claiming to be a student of Satyawati College and a member of Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP) for having pasted their posters over certain others on the Wall of Democracy in the Delhi University North Campus. The man threatened to beat up the two students if they ever put up such posters again. ABVP denied that the caller had any authority to speak on behalf of the organisation, saying that they had no objection to Pinjra Tod or the posters put up by it. Pinjra Tod retaliated by filing an FIR and coming out with a new poster saying "You can't lock the walls."
On 23 September 2016, Pinjra Tod had organised a night march and vigil in North Campus to end sexist diktats and discriminatory hostel rules, which was allegedly disrupted by ABVP activists. Pinjra Tod later backed its claims by releasing a video to substantiate its claim.
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