TISS Mumbai recently announced that it will soon have gender neutral hostels, where people of all orientations and genders on the spectrum can feel at home. The notice states that self-identified transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming persons can apply for rooms in the hostel. Interestingly, the Hyderabad branch of TISS had a gender neutral hostel a few years ago, but they had to shut it down because the neighbours were not ready for such a change.
A former TISS student, Apurva Vurity explains, “TISS is quite a liberal and progressive space, but our hostel is outside the campus. It was basically an apartment where girls were on one floor and boys on another, but both the spaces could be used by everyone. Only the rooms were separated for functional reasons.”
She adds, “Following numerous complaints from the people around, they had to segregate the boys and girls completely. Hyderabad is still not ready for such a change unless the hostel is within the campus. We tried to converse with our neighbours and make them understand, but we all believe in certain structures that can’t be broken just because a stranger says so. It’s a constant process and we have a very long way to go.”
Vyjayanti Vasanta Mowgli, a former student at TISS Hyderabad and a trans-woman has an interesting perspective. “I’ve had intimidating experiences in women’s washrooms with girls saying, ‘Oh, what kind of jerks come into the women’s washroom’ or that they ‘feel threatened’. When I took this matter up to the faculty, they asked me to assert myself and continue going to the women’s washroom. But I was always scared that someone would accuse me of sexual harassment and didn’t want to live in that fear. TISS Mumbai is acting now, but I am not excited about it. It’s just a historical injustice that’s getting corrected now,” says Mowgli.
Rohit Asil, a lead actor in a play that deals with the LGBT issue, makes a valid point. “Gender neutrality is a mindset. By creating a separate section for transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming persons, you’re again creating segregation. True gender neutral hostels would be accessible to everyone on the gender spectrum, even straight people! By creating this class or section, straight people may never step in and those who stay in these hostels may be negatively stereotyped. But the intention behind the move is right and we will hopefully figure it out along the way,” he opines.
Sowjanya Tamalapakula, a faculty at TISS Hyderabad and a warden for the Rajendranagar campus hostel, talks about the shortcomings they face, “We are facing a huge resource crunch and the government is only cutting down funds to social sciences institutions. We don’t have a huge campus and have outsourced hostels to private parties who are not comfortable with the idea of unisex hostels.”
She adds, “There is also very high surveillance here, especially from the people around. Lots of sexual harassment cases have been reported and people have a problem with the girls’ dressing, etc. Some families have even gone to the police. So a gender neutral hostel in Hyderabad is a far cry unless we get a campus of our own.”
Well, negative or positive, TISS Mumbai’s move seems to have initiated a dialogue, something that is most imperative....