Last year, on the evening of September 15, a group of one hundred young women from some of New Delhi’s top universities took to the streets. They hoisted banners and posters and chanted “pinjra tod,” or “break the cage,” the slogan of their new campaign to end the curfew placed upon them at their schools. Earlier that month, university administrators at Delhi University passed a rule prohibiting female students from leaving their dormitories after 6:30 PM or in more lenient cases, 8:00 PM. Students who flouted the curfew were penalized with further restrictions or faced losing their spot at the coveted dormitories, which are provided only to those who score in the top percentile in the national high school exams.
After the sickening rape, torture, and murder of a 23-year-old girl on a New Delhi bus in 2012, relentless calls for greater security followed, with a number of positive outcomes: the government amended sexual harassment laws, laid out harsher sentence for sexual crimes, created fast track courts to expedite prosecution, and amended other protective laws, such as the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, to ensure the gravest punishment provision for the offenders.
But in many ways—particularly the curfew—these changes reflect a pervasive, patriarchal mindset, one that continues to hold women responsible for their own rape. As a nationwide debate on women’s safety persisted after the gang rape, young women everywhere were discouraged from pursuing careers on account of their safety. “Women are equally responsible for crimes committed against them,” said Vibha Rao, chair of the Chhattisgarh State Women’s Commission, at the time. As the argument goes, the 23-year-old victim, who had been a promising student and was returning to campus with a male friend at 9:30PM after having watched a film, would still be alive today if she had simply stayed home.
According to Aditi Bhargava, a 21-year-old computer engineer, her parents had encouraged her to devote herself to her studies and attend college, but have asked her
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