India’s First Gender‑Neutral Hostel Must Be the First of Many
The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, has become the first college campus in India to set up a gender-neutral hostel, hopefully setting a precedent for more institutions around the country. The plan to ensure inclusivity and safety for all students began with a campaign by Queer Collective (QC), a student organization at TISS, that resulted in negotiations with the administrative body last year. In April, the institute officially offered the ground floor of a girls’ hostel to accommodate gender non-conforming, genderqueer, trans students, as well as cis allies. While 17 students have already moved in, the hostel is an ongoing experiment of sorts, with the students and school administration working closely together to make sure students feel welcome and safe.
And this is crucial, because gender inclusivity is not something that is going to be solved by an isolated initiative. It’s not enough to simply demarcate a ‘safe space’ for queer people. It’s something that we need to be actively working towards, having conversations about, and learning from previous mistakes. A gender-inclusive hostel — while remarkable in a country that only recently decriminalized homosexuality — is still only the most basic step in affirming and protecting the rights of people across the gender spectrum.
The kinds of trauma inflicted on people who are trans, or who don’t identify with the gender binary, range from sexual violence and harassment, to something as everyday as being misgendered by students and teachers who aren’t aware or sensitized about respecting people’s gender identity. Despite the strides India has been making in this regard — with universities including a third gender option on their admissions forms, and campus policies being updated to include protection against sexual harassment for transgender students — these initiatives only serve as surface-level fixes for a much deeper problem. So, while campuses might be inclusive on paper, often they aren’t equipped to effectively follow through.
Why should a ‘safe space’ on campus be limited to one floor in a girls hostel? Public spaces need to adjust to the reality that not everyone conforms to the gender binary; the work required to re-engineer facilities that were built for two genders must move in tandem with the the work of revising people’s mindsets.
TISS’s initiative is a step in the right direction. More importantly, it sends the message that the institution recognizes and protects the rights of all its students to express their gender identities. So, while this hostel is home for only 17 students right now, the hope is that it serves as way to think through all of the other systemic ways our world is discriminatory, and the paths we can take to ensure inclusivity — in all spaces.