[Editor’s Note: “Phool nahin chingari hoon, Miranda House ki naari hoon!”
(I am not a flower. I’m a spark. I am a woman of Miranda House!)
I always knew I wanted to end up in Miranda House. Back in the IX grade when I had a vague idea that I wanted to be a journalist or a translator in life, one of my school seniors posted on Facebook that she had been accepted to Miranda House. Shambhawi, the school chairperson and always the smartest, the most brilliant girl in the room, was going to Miranda House.
But what was this Miranda House? I quickly looked up and fell in love with it— its glory, its beauty, its freedom. I knew I had to be there and join their film club, their dramatics society, their debate club, and do everything I possibly could. I wanted to be there so badly that I messaged Shambhawi, “You might think I am hurrying it up. I am only in the IX grade, but will you please tell me how did you get into Miranda House? I also want to go there.”
And I did. In 2014, after having let go of all my law college options and Economics college acceptances, I did end up in Miranda House! My father, an IIT-Delhi graduate (IIT-D organises several cultural mixers with Miranda and LSR girls), was initially hesitant. He only managed to say very little but I knew that his hesitation had sprung out of a feeling of being confronted with his memories (or notion) of Miranda girls being considered to be ‘too fast’, ‘bra-burning lesbians’, ‘cigarette-smoking whores,’ ‘women one dated but never married’, and ‘women who could not be taken home.’ People, especially men, are too quick to dismiss women. Perhaps, he was confronted with his presuppositions when his own daughter expressed the desire to join the college and become ‘one of those girls’. Did you know, however, that in one of the episodes of Kaun Banega Crorepati, Amitabh Bachchan, who used to be at the closeby Kirori Mal College, had pointed out how men deliberately took the bus from outside of women’s colleges to steal a glance of women?
Three years and three more later, as I carry the legacy of my college, I know that I am here because generations of women before me dared to live their life on their own terms and challenge the Madonna-Whore dichotomy. These women actively chose to give themselves the chance to be more of themselves. Our dichotomous society has never been great at accepting a third option, however, and so, the ‘fast girls’,— otherwise objects of intrigue and admiration— were admonished and rejected when it came to choosing wives.
A few weeks ago, capturing this very paradox of desirability, Zikr-e-Dilli, a page that narrates ‘covert and overt stories of Dilli’, unearthed pictures of women from the women’s colleges of the 1970s, and took us back to the question — is a woman never enough?
As we find ourselves raising similar questions even after 50 years, we wonder if a woman will ever be enough.]
Here are their photographs and Zikr-e-Dilli, in their own words.
“जे.एन.यू , एल.एस.आर, मिरांडा हाउस की लड़कियां आवेदन ना करें।”
(Girls from JNU, LSR or Miranda House need not apply.)
“This notoriously popular phrase emerged from some of the matrimonial ads published in the late 90s in Delhi. These classifieds categorically stated that “girls from JNU, LSR or Miranda House need not apply.” The ads described the level of education that prospective brides ought to have; subject and college choices of the prospective brides were also emphasised by the groom’s families. Most of these ads demanded women with university education but with strict terms and conditions. However, behind this popular phrase, there’s a long and dynamic history of women’s colleges in Delhi.
From expanding the scope of academic learning to participate in women’s movements, the women’s colleges of Delhi University have played an important role in shaping education for women through the 20th century.
In the early 20th century, the options for women’s university education were fairly limited in the city. In May, 1904, Annie Besant, president of the Theosophical Society wrote a letter emphasising the importance of women’s education to the secretary of the local branch of the society, Lala Balkishan Dass. It was in response to this letter that the Indraprastha Putri Pathshala, an all-girls school was opened on May 20, 1904, in two rooms of a haveli of Chippiwara near Jama Masjid. By 1924, it developed into the first women’s college of the city, Indraprastha College for Women.
Further, Miranda House, was established in 1948 by the then VC of DU, Maurice Gwyer. The massive influx of refugees after Partition led to increasing demand for colleges serving the educational needs of women. From the mid-1950s, some philanthropic entrepreneurs opened colleges across the city. Lady Shri Ram College (LSR) was established by Lala Shri Ram, in 1956 in honour of his wife Phoolan Devi. From its humble origins in a school building at Daryaganj, the college moved to Lajpat Nagar in 1958. In the 1960s, the Delhi government built several colleges for women, such as Kamala Nehru, Gargi, Maitreyi, Shyama Prasad Mukherji and Bharati.
Today, DU has 22 women’s colleges.
Whether it is the late 1970s women’s movement or participation in contemporary student politics, these colleges have always made their voices heard. However, in the world of matrimonial ads, the casteist and misogynist columns are still busy judging the women of these colleges.”
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