Shocking details emerge in the case where 68 girls of a Bhuj college were forced to remove undergarments to prove they were not menstruating. A hosteller says menstruating girls are locked up in hostel’s basement and served food in a passage

Kulsum Yusuf in Bhuj
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A day after Mirror reported the horrifying incident where 68 girls at Bhuj college run by followers of Swaminarayan Mandir were forced to remove their undergarments to prove they were not menstruating, more shocking details have emerged. In an exclusive interview with Mirror, Vinita (name changed), an SYBSc student of Shri Sahajanand Girls’ Institute, recounts the horror hostellers have to go through during their period. She says girls are ‘imprisoned’ in the basement of the hostel for three days every month and not allowed to enter the main dining hall to have food with other hostel mates. These three days, dark and depressing, are a living hell for the young girls. They are given food in the passage as though they are untouchables, condemned to isolation only because they are women. They are also not allowed to enter the hostel room if they need to collect something and instead have to ask their roommates to get it for them. The deeply humiliating treatment takes a toll on their mental health and makes them question their self-worth, she says. Tuesday’s incident was the breaking point. Here’s a first person account:

It feels like we have been jailed

“If a hosteller is in her period, it is mandatory for her to declare so by writing her name in the register. There is a separate section for such hostellers in the basement lobby of the three-storey hostel. For three days, every month, the menstruating girls are required to shift here. It is like a punishment for us and we don’t like it. It makes us feel like we are lesser mortals and moves us to tears. We are locked up here without access to the other floors. It feels like we have been jailed. In the basement, we are isolated from the rest of the world. The girls here cannot participate in the prayers, puja or have food with other hostel mates in the dining hall. We are given food in a passage in the basement which doubles up as a dining space. If we need anything from our rooms, we have to ask the roommates to get it for us. We are not supposed to touch our teachers or classmates.

The principal, hostel rector and the trustees harass us regularly over the issue of menstruation. This happens even if we follow their religious rules. They suspect that we are lying. The mental torture we go through is unbearable.

Who treats girls like this? Even women are not kind to girls

A school also functions on the campus and the girls of class 1-12 too live in the hostel with us, but they are mostly from the sect and conditioned to follow the religious norms. I feel bad for them too.

I have lived in the hostels in Jamnagar and Rajkot in the past, but nobody follows such ridiculous rules. Who treats girls like this? Here, even women are not kind to the girls. Even the male trustees remind us that we have to follow the norms, insinuating that we are required to stick to the protocol during menstruation.

On February 10, some of the hostellers who got fed up with the humiliation, approached the trustees and complained to them about the constant mental torture and verbal abuse by Ramilaben, the rector of the hostel and Anitaben, a lawyer. This matter reached principal Dr Rita Raninga.

On February 11, Dr Raninga made an announcement asking the girls to assemble at the hostel passage. We were paraded through the college into the restroom and forced to individually remove our undergarment to prove that we were not menstruating. It was Nainaben, the peon, who individually checked the undergarments. This was the last straw. What more humiliation was left?

Day scholars informed our parents about incident

When we protested, trustee Pravin Pindoria told us that we could take legal action if we wanted but we would have to first leave the hostel. He also forced us to sign a letter saying nothing happened in college. But we decided that this was enough.

We are not allowed to use the phone to contact anyone. Appalled by the misogyny, some of the day scholars went to our homes and informed our parents about the incident. We are thankful to them.

It was my elder sister who decided to stand up for me. She is a BCA graduate from a Bhuj college and was furious to learn about the discriminatory treatment at the hostel. The incident has caused me immense stress and I fear I am slipping into depression. I have my practical exam this Monday and I cannot focus on anything. I fear that the administration will ruin my career. Please help me.”

AHEAD OF VARSITY PROBE COMMITTEE’S VISIT…

Staff shuts hostellers in room

Victim alleges college staff let off day scholars early with warning, shut hostellers in room guarded by teachers to stop them from speaking to probe team

Do not talk to anyone if you want to stay in this college: This was the diktat issued by trustees and staff of Shri Sahjanand Girls’ Institute in Bhuj issued to students, a day after hostellers were humiliated by being forced to remove their undergarments to prove that they were not menstruating. Even as the National Women’s Commission took cognisance of the institute’s ‘strip test’ incident, the college let off day scholars early, shut the hostellers in a room, and posted teachers outside it to ensure that no student would be able to talk to any investigating official.

Run by followers of Swaminarayan Mandir in Bhuj (Nar Narayan Dev Gadi), the college was set up in 2012 but moved into a new building on the premises of Shree Swaminarayan Kanya Mandir in 2014. The college which offers BCom, BA and BSc courses has about 1,500 students of which 68, who come from remote villages, stay in the hostel on campus.

According to the sect’s norms, menstruating females are barred from entering the temple and kitchen. They are even forbidden from touching other students. Hostellers claim that they were treated like pariahs and tortured when they were having their periods.

‘Principal called us characterless’

Recollecting the series of events, Vinita*, a 19-year-old SYBSc student who filed an FIR in this regard on Friday, said, “I am from a village near Bhuj and live in the hostel which is actually meant to house children studying in a school on the same premises. On February 11, the hostellers were pulled up for not following religious rules of the sect meant for menstruating women. The hostel rector reportedly complained to principal Rita Raninga that some girls who were having their periods not just mingled with other hostel inmates, but also entered the kitchen and ventured near the temple on the premises. We were made to parade through the college to the washroom were female teachers checked our undergarments for blood. On February 12, we complained to the trustees about this. However, school principal Dakshaben, hostel rector Ramilaben and Anitaben, an advocate associated with the institute, abused us verbally and tortured us mentally. College principal Rita Raninga scolded us, saying rules have to be followed. She also called us ‘characterless’.”

She added, “All senior students were summoned and told that this is a charity organisation that was facilitating our studies. The four girls who had complained to the trustees were tortured till they ended up in tears. Horrified by this, one of the day scholars went to the parents of a hosteller and told them what was happening. This is how the entire incident came to light.”

The news of the incident spread wide but “the college administration took on a belligerent stand initially”, Vinita said.

“The staff told the girls that trustee Praveen Pindoria is former vice-president of Kutch Zilla BJP and no one can touch him. Dakshaben told us that Praveen sir has good connections and no one will be able to harm him. A while later, they called us to the principal’s room, shut the curtains and windows and scolded us again. Principals Rita and Daksha along with rector Ramila and peon Naina tried to convince us against making the complaint official. Rita cried and apologised but Daksha said it was up to us if we wanted to stay or leave.” Around 5 pm on Thursday, a committee set up by Krantiguru Shyamji Krishna Verma Kutch University incharge vice-chancellor arrived at the college to probe the incident.

‘Trustees called up parents’

“Trustees Pindoria and P H Hirani called up students’ parents and exhorted them to tell their wards to stay mum as it would bring a bad name to the college. They also told the parents that the college was run by the sect for charity, and speaking against the institute would bring disrepute to the sect. ‘We just asked you to adhere to the sect’s rules. We wanted you to have sanskar. This matter should not reach the police,’ the trustees told us.”

Before the university team, the trustees promised to “listen to the girls and take action against whoever was responsible for their humiliation”. “Then on Friday morning, they called the parents for a meeting and harassed them again. Later, they got the students together and threatened them against going out of campus and sharing information with outsiders. Usually, college gets over at 1 pm but the day scholars were let off early with a warning. The staff locked the hostellers in the assembly halls while the teachers stood guard.”

Trustee Praveen Pindoria said, “We have suspended three staff members over the incident. We are positive, and justice will be delivered.” When asked about principal Daksha and her threats, he said, “It is possible that students made baseless allegations against the staff because they hold grudges.”

* Name changed to protect identity

College which offers BCom, BA and BSc courses has about 1,500 students of which 68, who come from remote villages, stay in hostel on campus

Varsity probe team met college trustees and staff on Thursday evening

ACTIVIST SPEAKS

GAURANG JANI, SOCIOLOGIST

IN GUJARAT, there has never been any opposition to any practice by religious organisations, may they be stigmatising menstruating women or stopping entry of Dalits into temples. Dominant religious sects do as they please, as they support political parties and neither the elites, nor litterateurs speak up against this. Social reform in Gujarat seems to have stopped after Gandhi. There also no comprehensive lessons in our textbooks normalising menstruation, leading to such practices being prevalent even today. It feels Gujarat is stuck in the 19th century. The government is not doing anything about this either.

INDIRA HIRWAY, DIRECTOR, PROF OF ECONOMICS, CFDA

THIS IS inhuman and insulting, a totally primitive approach. It is shameful for India that we have such teachers and institutes. It is totally wrong that girls are treated with such low dignity. These culprits must be severely punished.

MEENA JAGTAP, LAWYER AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

THIS IS disgusting and an insult of womanhood. I would like to ask members of the Swaminarayan sect who have imposed these rules on menstruating women, if the chief of their sect was born to woman who had not menstruated? Don’t their mother and sisters menstruate? What they did was against the law, and they deserve strict punishment. I hope this incident is not forgotten like the Naliya Kand.

courtesy- Ahmedabad Mirror

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