TAKING a significant step towards a gender-inclusive campus, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai has introduced India’s first gender-neutral hostel space, operational from the upcoming academic year starting June.
The institute has marked the ground floor of an existing girls’ hostel as the gender-neutral space that will accommodate MA students who identify themselves as transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming students on campus. A notification issued on Thursday sought applications from second-year students who wish to avail this hostel facility. Rooms will be allotted on a first-come-first-serve basis, according to the notification.
The facility on the ground floor of Hostel IV will accommodate 20 students, according to P K Shajahan, dean of student affairs at TISS. “From the new academic year, we will have a hostel facility for students not conforming to the gender binaries. Currently, we’ve sought applications from second-year students but we also plan to keep some rooms for the incoming first-year students,” said Shajahan, adding that the number of rooms may be increased later.
This hostel space is the culmination of long-term student campaign. The TISS Queer Collective (QC), an informal student body advocating a safe space for LGBTQ+ students, began demanding a gender-neutral hostel space last year.
“It took a lot of campaigning for this demand to become a reality. The QC worked with the students running for election to the student union to include this demand in the election manifesto. Thereafter, we had to mobilise students, talk to fellow students and teachers in classrooms and convince them about the necessity of a gender-neutral hostel,” said Sai Tejo, a second-year student who is part of the QC.
In September last year, the student union passed a resolution in its general body meeting to demand a gender-neutral hostel space as well as gender-neutral toilets on campus. Dialogues with faculty members and administration ensued to figure out the logistics for the two, according to Tejo, who identifies as a trans-woman.
“The hostel came into being because of a combined effort by students, faculty members as well as the administration,” said Shajahan.
Earlier this year, the institute gave students the option of the gender-neutral salutation ‘Mx’ in their certificates. So graduating students could choose from Ms, Mr, Mrs and Mx honorifics.
“Misgendering, particularly in educational institutes, takes a toll on everyone. For instance, sharing a room with a heterosexual man who passes homophobic and transphobic comments takes a toll and is very uncomfortable. This hostel is the first step towards gender inclusivity,” said Christopher Nag, an MPhil student.
For Nag, the next step is to broaden the horizon of the hostel to make it available to students from all other courses. “We are envisioning a gender-neutral space with mobility, which means a space that is for the LGBTQ+ community but not limited to them and is accessible to everyone,” said Nag.
“Changes like these also need behavioral changes, which is not easy,” said Harish Iyer, a city-based equal rights activist.