Pinjra Tod – Time for equality

A political project that uses Public Art as their mode to express

Public Art doesn’t necessarily have to be an installation or sculpture that is erected in a public place but could be anything that makes an effect on society, anything that raises issues for public to think upon. Such is an effort called Pinjra Tod, a political campaign that uses Public Art as their medium. It is fighting against gender-biased rules and moral policing in student hostels now across India. It is an initiative of a feminist autonomous collective of women students and alumni across colleges and hostels in Delhi that pursue to discuss, debate, share, mobilise and collectivise struggles against the issue as well as demand access to safe and affordable hostel accommodation and pro-active functioning of Sexual Harassment Complaints Committee Cells.

Graffiti on the streets

Although initially on a smaller scale, but eventually Pinjra Tod has become a national project since August 2015 when it emerged in response to a notice issued by the Delhi Commission for Women to Jamia Milia Islamia University for practicing gender discrimination in canceling late-nights for residents of the university and hostels.

Articulating the problem of sexism, it’s become a social phenomenon that has been going on for years now to make a change in society and its perceptions. The Universities and colleges across India are now involved in this fight for “freedom & equality”.  The revaluing of accessibility and privacy of women students which have been curbed through CCTV cameras, deadlines, and curfew rules being few of the main demands of the Sect;  check hike in women hostel fees, construction of more hostels,  initiation and assured Sexual Harassment Complaints Committee Cells are some of the other demands.

Protest to reach out the authorities

The sect has pushed boundaries of methods to protest and has taken various ways to reach out to the authorities and voice out their demands. The founders of Pinjra Tod emerged from an experience of protests such as ‘Come and See the blood on my skirt’, ‘Shuddh Desi Romance’, and ‘Kiss of Love’, all of which strongly pushed the certain ‘norms’  of forms of protest.  The feminist group is out at night, with their representational image ‘Red Riding hood’, reclaiming and asking for dreams of the feminist revolution. Fighting against ‘The wolf’ representing the negative man, the representational patriarch prowls, who claims his ownership to the night.

There have been enough continued marches, performances, skits, street plays, and other performative protests to fight back against the patriarchal and biased anti-equalist attitude of society. On a succeeded October night, Women walked the streets of North Delhi, University Campus, and hostels,  urging their fellow women to join them by breaking free from the cage, sharing their experiences of living in hostels, speaking to the wardens, and marking the night  as ‘Pinjra Tod Night’ with songs, voices, and rage.

Slogan stenciled on the wall

A delegation of Pinjra Tod gathered outside the MHRD office in New Delhi On Nov 21, 2015, in reply to the statement by Smriti Irani, then the Minister for Human Resource Development. As quoted by National dailies, “In India, I don’t think any woman is dictated what to wear, how to wear, whom to meet, when to meet”. The group intended to inform the Minister about the horrific experiences and insidious approach to control the women students who live in the hostels of other universities that come under the jurisdiction of her Ministry. They read out loud the rules and regulations of the hostel manuals of various universities with an intention to put in Smriti Irani’s notice that the women were constantly told what to wear, how to wear, whom to meet, and when to meet. The faction carried eleven hostel rule books and manuals from colleges and universities across Delhi well-wrapped in a package to give to the minister.

The clan has been finding different ways to put across their word and spread the message of equality. Such was the International Woking Women’s Day of 2016 at the University of Delhi which was a colorful protest where women came onto the streets dancing, singing and going from College to college campaigning along. Sultana’s dream, a feminist fiction written in 1905 by Rokeya Begum, graced the evening along with music, poetry, art and feminist expression, away from university surveillance and censorship, commercial sponsors, and free from the pressures that are compatible to stereotypes of gender roles.

Most recently, the cult protested against the circulation of rules for women that are levied every year on Holi. The women hostellers across colleges and universities in the city were forcibly confined inside the hostels and were restricted mobility for the whole day in the name of ‘safety’.  

Graffiti on the wall as a protest

Wings, Flight and freedom emerging as dominant imagery in the doodles, The Pinjra Tod ‘community’ has taken various modes to reach out to the authorities and people not excluding the Creative sector. The Vinyl Records, an all-girls rock band from the North East released on YouTube an anthem song for Pinjra Tod. Pinjra Tod has also released  #Pinjra Tod: Bringing down the walls, a short film about women student’s struggles against restrictive hostel rules and regulations, on YouTube which has become an important part of the campaign. Another form that emerged as powerful as a protest march in Pinjra Tod is Poetry. Regardless of gender, people have been constantly dropping anger poetry (some of which are converted into songs) and desire to be free on their social media pages with the #pinjratod lead. ‬

Pinjra Tod has developed to be an extremely important public art project with its diverse means of putting across its message to society.  From making graffiti on the walls, having protested march, making short films to performing on the streets, the phenomenon has left no stone unturned to reach out. In September 2015, a mute performance was presented by Chirag Thakkar, “Khol do”,  representing a woman’s desire to be free from the hostel curfews which seem to cage her, to the Delhi Commission for Women. Pinjra Tod has constantly tried to highlight how women in India need to negotiate for freedom in their lives and break through the ‘cages’.  Through the play titled “Who Bol Uthi”, sect underlines the different cages that women find themselves entrapped in: at public spaces, schools, colleges, hostels and also at their own homes.

Parody poster designed by Pinjra Tod

Much to a surprise of organisers of Pinjra Tod as well,  students anonymously got engaged in underground acts of graffiti-making with signs of #Pinjratod on the walls, sidewalks of North campus, University of Delhi. Art is said to be a strong weapon in conveying the message across, hence they reclaim the streets by drawings of pictures of birds escaping from cages. There’s a relatable freshness and realism in their small arty posters and placards, which have hearts, colourful strokes, young language, and all carry #pinjratod. Like today’s generation and call of the times, Pinjra Tod has entered through strong medium i.e.  social media.  They use Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp for organising and campaigning in addition to the other methods. Their Facebook page is a documentation of the stories of experiences and struggles of countless women that they faced living in paid accommodations or university hostels.  

Women of different backgrounds, with different bodies irrespective of caste, creed or religion bring together their voices and their young dreams and aspirations. However, it’s better marked that regardless of its widespread and understandable methods used being language and myriad performances, the essence of the movement is retained and well subscribed to.


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There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts.

John F. Kennedy