The Lord is our Shepherd
St. Stephenís College, Delhi Universityís oldest college was originally an all-boys institution, although it had some women students also. In 1975 (in its 95th year) , the college took a forward-looking decision and opened its portals to women.
When prestigious all-male bastions open up small entry points for women, these remain fraught spaces. Despite admission to this legendary institution, being women meant less access to its corporate life, no access to residential facilities and an uncomfortable access to the objectification of women by a percentage of male peers, which was overlooked by the establishment.
A lot has changed, albeit slowly, in the face of much resistance. Since the 1980s, with more women on the workforce, SSC teachers began participating in Delhi University Teachers Association activities and its women scholars raised the benchmark for admissions, doubling numbers and bagging the lionís share of residential facilities. This year, unnerved Patriarchs in power sought reservation for men, which was shot down by the staff council. Letís take a look at womensí herstories at SSC from 1975 to the present:
There is a malevolent goblin out there on the idyllic lawns of St Stephenís College. He is camouflaged by the brick walls and the masonry as he pulls out the rose bushes by their roots, seeds noxious toadstools, and brews cankerous discontent. Why else would the Supreme Council stoop to such rancour against the daughters of Eve and go to such length to succour the sons of Adam? Members of the Supreme Council, things came to a sorry pass in Eden long back because although poor Eve comprised one rib of Adamís, he willingly relinquished Paradise to be with her. Do not therefore hold that heavenly grudge only against Eve but accept Adamís complicity belatedly for this was the beginning of a great friendship not in heaven but definitely on earth.
Therefore do unto us as you would unto the sons of Adam, we beseech thee, for in the earthly paradise of Stephania every single daughter of Eve has tirelessly laboured towards its greater glory (Ad Dei Gloriam ) as ordained by the admission book, motto and the crest. And so it came to pass one day in 1975 that the daughters of Eve were brought forth to the institution in small numbers, aye numbers far less in percentage than the paltry 33 per cent reservation they plead for in Indian polity. Verily, we say unto thee, the daughters of Eve attained such honour because they were righteous and steadfast in their accumulation of merit. Mark ye these words of ours. Let not the teetering goblin, who fears emasculation, cause you to forget.
We broke hard ground at home and ploughed the fields of middle class conservatism before the rocky soil of rigid parenthood would yield to our ministrations and enable us to assemble in the foyer of St Stephenís. We came from far and nigh seeking shelter. "Come unto me all ye who labour and I shall give you rest" that heartening promise moved us in droves to new sanctuary and new beginnings. And the mills that grind down inequality were set into motion, on earth as it is not in heaven.
Why have you forsaken us, O Supreme Council? You banished us from your revels by sending us home early from our work each season. We bore that hurt with equanimity and missed out on the corporate life of college which began only in the evenings. All our efforts though, were of little avail. With goodwill, we broke bread with the Shakespeare Society and took on female roles. Yet the men continued to express their gratitude for years afterwards to the women of Miranda by dancing Al Fresco without any clothes at their hostel gates. If only you had granted us residence in the year of our arrival!
For all the suffering that was visited upon the day the marauders mauled us under the cover of Holi colours, the sons of Adam merely turned themselves to stone. You hurled your thunderbolt at us and exhorted silence when we all rose shakily in protest. Yet afterwards when the sons of Adam made reductive chick lists as if we were creatures to be displayed at shopping Arks and wrote scurrilously in Kooler Talk, your light continued to shine on them. When the sons of Adam took our private clothing out of secret places and hung them on your steeple, you laughed out of the whirlwind remarking that boys will be boys and withheld retribution.
We endured and suffered long years, our patience out measuring that of Jobís, and yet punishment was visited upon us for Eveís first disobedience. We aver that the rubbing does bring out the shine, for we grew and gleamed and shone from strength to strength. We secured top positions in university examinations and in sports and extracurricular activities and brought valour to the House of St. Stephens. We also brought in much-needed bright colours and ethnic apparel to the fold. At Academic Councils as women-student representatives we blazed paths of glory. All this; despite the few crumbs you fed us while cutting the centenary cake close to midnight so the sons of Adam could feast upon the kill. Women teachers who joined college breathed new life into the College Staff Association. They forged fine links of sturdy steel with the larger body of Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) and built bridges between the teachers and students of college and the larger university community. What herculean labour this and how it expanded our horizons! This spectacular feat was held in abeyance until the epoch of women took it upon themselves to set it in motion. They proved to be worthy shepherdesses, ably guiding their flock although single women teachers were cast out by you in the wilderness of non-residence.
Worse was to come. Our valour and courage did not impress upon you our right to live in residence. Our meekness remained unblessed and you took us in on sufferance. Till the very end, your archangels saw our presence as fraught with danger and questioned whether women should inherit hostels on earth in order to copulate and breed? Should this malodorous cry trumpet the end of a century that witnessed the enormous gains made by womenís struggles for representation and rights?
Yes in the beginning, college was with the boys and we strove to find an equitable foothold. Too much water has flowed under the bridge, since. There are too many of us, and we cannot be turned away, for this land was promised to us a long time ago. We came to you in peace and were met with hostility. We continue to engage with you through peaceable means despite our tensile strength.
We had one president among us and in her hour of need during MA admissions you denied all knowledge of her undergraduate years wherein she had thrice pledged herself to you. We forgive you your trespasses for clearly you knew not what you did. We are aware that we have yet to be fully represented in all the powerful governing body positions bestowed upon the sons of Adam who reign in your house. The 37th year of our entry at the college portals has yet to bring forth a Danielle among women who could serve as principal. Nor do we have from amongst us sufficient aides in the Supreme Council. Let not your greatness flicker O Eternal Supreme Council. Seek and ye shall find. There are many amongst you who have always walked with us and stood up for what is right. Brethren such as these shall continue to be numbered among us. The future calls for the separation of the wheat from the chaff. When the chosen daughters and sons of the human race walk freely in your lit corridors and drink at the streams of learning without fearing the wrath of the goblin-wolf upstream, O Supreme Council what a glorious dawn that will portend. Give us this day, and in the years to come, the gender justice which is our due and send us down a rainbow as a sign of affirmation. Amen.
ó The writer is one of the few women students who joined St Stephenís College, New Delhi, soon after it became co-educational. She is Associate Professor, English, at Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi University.