John Gray could have written a bizarre sequel to his Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus had he visited St Xavier's College, Ranchi, in recent times.
The prestigious co-ed and autonomous institution has hit rewind to the Dark Ages, and is enforcing a set of gender-based guidelines, which it fantastically claims is for the safety of girl students in the wake of the brutal Delhi gang rape.
For starters, the college has divided its reading room ' a 100-seat facility used by students for self-study or sometimes group discussions in the run-up to their semesters ' equally between boys and girls. Also, the latter are being forced to take a separate, men-sanitised stairway to their classrooms on the second floor.
These demarcations in their study territory has surprised and disappointed students who feel the authorities are ironically going overboard on gender discrimination on the pretext of safety. The changes, they said in unison, were both unwanted and unnecessary, and the college implemented them some 20 days ago without prior notice.
The reading room at St Xavier's is open from 6am to 8.30pm every day.
"Earlier, the room had no boundaries. We all studied together. Suddenly one day, while we were preparing for our semester examinations, a college official asked us to carry our revisions separately. We were told the reading room had been divided among boys and girls," third-year history student Niti Sinha said, adding that she still found it hard to believe that a co-ed cradle was being so gender biased.
Third-year mass communication student Amal Kumar too voiced his protest. "Ye sab kar ke, college authorities kya dikhana chahte hain (What do the college authorities want to prove by doing all this?) Why run a co-ed college then?" the youth said.
He added that he found the idea so insulting that he had stopped going to the reading room. "I am using the college grounds to revise my syllabus for monthly tests and semesters."
Amal is not alone in his decision. Many students were seen studying and discussing their syllabus under the open sky ' either on the grounds or at the college quadrangle.
"Hum log jana band kar diye hain (We have stopped going to the reading room). What is the point using the facility if the college has no faith in us and feels we only talk with girls in the reading room," said third-year B.Com student Ritesh Kumar, who often goes to the college canteen for group study.
Girl students have more reason to be disgruntled because they are also made to climb separate stairways to attend lectures.
St Xavier's has three stairways for its students. One is a general flight of stairs that connects the ground and first floors, which houses the college office, the staff room and the principal's chamber. The two others that connect the ground and second floors have been demarcated for boys and girls. While the left is reserved for the fair sex, the right is used by the other gender.
"It seems we are studying in two different planets. Making us take separate stairs only exposes the myopic mindset of the college. We are still thought of as the weaker sex. Actually, such gender bias stokes incidents like eve-teasing and rape. The mindset should change first," said Rina Kumari, a second-year English student.
Most teachers clammed up when asked about the bizarre arrangements that were encroaching upon student freedom and mocking the very principles of co-education.
"Students are making a mountain of a mole hill. They use the reading room for fun (which is being stopped). Yeh sab boyfriend banate hain aur dikhate hain ki padhai kar rahe hain (They use the facility as a rendezvous point, but feign they are studying)," one of the teachers said, unwilling to be named.
Principal Father Nicholas Tete was brief in his explanation behind the new rules. "These are for greater safety of our girl students," he said.
Do you think the new rules will make the campus safer for girls?