JNU Student Union elections: Left party candidate fears ABVP victory will usher in a fascist era at university

Saib Bilaval met with Geeta Kumari, JNU Students Union presidential candidate from the Left Unity Panel for an interview where they had discussions on wide-ranging topics, ahead of the presidential debate.

Did you decide to run for JNUSU President, or did your party (AISA) put your name forward?
My party put my name forward. I always knew I would have to contest for the central panel, but I was the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) representative so I thought that after a couple of years (during my PhD) I will contest for the president but the party, this time, put my name forward for the Presidential election.

What makes you different from the average AISA candidate? What different do you bring to the table?
I don't know about the AISA part of it, but as a candidate — I'm the oldest one on the panel right now if you see all the Presidential candidates. I've been an activist for six years now and I have all the experience of administrative work — I was elected councillor twice and a GSCASH representative for two and a half years now. So I think that experience, you know, which candidates couldn't bring in because of the Lyndoh committee rules, I have that.

What are the issues you are personally focusing in on this year's election?
See, the major issue right now is the seat cut. Reservations have totally gone away and the deprivation points — we had fought hard for these issues, and the PWD (Persons With Disabilities) reservations, none of the students in PWD category could enter in M Phil/PhD this time. These are basic minimum issues.

Important institutions such as the GSCASH — the vice-chancellor is hellbent on destroying GSCASH. I know how important it is to be a part of GSCASH. There are lots of women in this campus, there are lots of people in this campus who would have faced depression had GSCASH not been there. They were kind of scared on this campus and wouldn't come out of their rooms, if GSCASH was not there.

Hostel renovation is another issue. One of the major issue I keep hearing about is the reservation and I agree. If you see the Mahi Mandavi hostel, Tapti or Jhelum hostel, to name a few. At times, it feels like a cave — it stinks in the hostel. These things keep coming to my mind regularly.

What do you think are the good qualities of your fellow candidates in the Left Unity central panel? Since you are all from different organisations. What have you been seeing them do on campus as activists over the past few years?

 JNU Student Union elections: Left party candidate fears ABVP victory will usher in a fascist era at university

Representational image. Reuters

First of all, my panel members — all of them are activists. The vice-presidential candidate (she has worked with me for the past couple of years) she has been an active member of AISA, and she's worked through these bad times. Duggirala (Left Unity Gen Sec candidate from SFI) was convener of SIS (School of International Studies) last year. He has worked hard for the school, and everybody loves him in the school — across party lines. You get into SIS and you hear "Haan, you're Duggi's panel? We'll surely vote for you", like it used to happen to me in SL where I was a councillor and neverybody knew me.

And Subhanshu has been an activist for the past two-three years. All of us are activists. This rarely happens in Lyngdoh times. I feel everyone in my panel has the experience and right qualities in these times, especially when the V-C is so autocratic.

This time what is interesting is that every political party — there are a few independent candidates — but every political party has, for President, fielded a female candidate. Why do you think this is the case, and has it happened before?
It has not happened before. In my time, I have known, there has never been a case where all parties have fielded a female president candidate. We have had two-three female presidents —  Mona Das, Sucheta De and Albeena Shakil — but never in an all-female race. I think this is because, as a woman, we have to work more than a male activist — we have to take care of so many things when we become an activist. I always have to think about what I'm wearing, what people think of me as a woman, how my own people take my commands, as compared to the male activists who are there. I'm really happy when our party fields a female candidate. We feel women in our party actually have that authority, where our party can trust us for a thing like presidential debate, or running a union for a whole year.

What were the achievements of the last union, considering it was a Left Unity Panel as well?
Let me first tell you what achievements mean. Student movements cant always achieve everything in one year. For example, the OBC reservation movement actually went on for three-four years when we would be abused on the campus and even after that it went on before the results finally came. Last year, after JNU was attacked from every corner. The administration is full of RSS members on almost every post — the last unit successfully led the movements in the campus whether it was the UGC gazette, or Najeeb Ahmed's case or the movement against the inquiries. The last President sacrificed his PhD after three years just to give the administration a taste of the students' movement — we won't back down.

There have been many questions raised about AISA's role in GSCASH inquires.
See, the due process was followed, I'm telling you once I enter the (GSCASH) office, I am not an AISA activist. There have been members from different parties and ideologies, even those with whom I have clashed — ask them if I have ever made them uncomfortable outside the GSCASH office, any of the complainants or defendants — if i have ever misbehaved with them because they belong to a different ideology? I always followed the due process of the GSCASH.

And these claims of me leaving GSCASH during my tenure aren't true. I have worked one and a half times more than my tenure and I never let go of my GSCASH duties. I have worked with three committees. If even one member says I have not worked my heart out, then i will apologise.

If you read the GSCASH rules, it says one can't continue for more than three years. In merely a year, I have worked so hard with two committees to make sure the GSCASH happens. We talked to the EC, the VC, we talked to everyone possible..

We even talked to the VC about conducting GSCASH election. But the surroundings were such in these times. For one-and-a-half years, I was the only GSCASH representative, and many people have misbehaved with me or asked me to be excluded from inquiries because I'm the GSCASH representative or I'm from AISA — and even then i did not take it to heart, because of course they have all the right to say that. But the moment I stepped into that office, I left my AISA activism at the door, and was just a GSCASH representative, who was supposed to defend the who need help.

Do you believe political parties should contest for GSCASH?
I believe that gender is a very political question and I believe that political parties have the all the right to contest for GSCASH. There are many appointed (not elected) members in the GSCASH, they have no idea about gender. We, the political people, emerge from movements, we enter the GSCASH with full knowledge of gender, sexual harassment.

Being a woman, I want a woman to be a GSCASH representative because as a woman I understand when a victim comes in. I totally believe that any independent person can contest — I only want just one quality in a person running for GSCASH, they must be feminist.

You have to face many things that office — you have to fight your own committee, you have to fight the administration, which is supposed to help you but they don't. GSCASH is lacking in many things. We don't have enough infrastructure. Our inquiries don't finish on time because we can't transcribe everything. I stay up all night transcribing the minutes of our inquiries because in our office we just have two people who can transcribe, and if we have forty cases in the office, how can I ask them to transcribe everything? Confidentiality classification prevents anyone else from sharing the burden so the teacher representatives, other representatives and i often have to take it up ourselves. I went inside that office from 9 in the morning till 7 in the evening. For a year you've not seen me, you know. The time I was not there in our movement, or was missing from active politics — I was sitting inside the GSCASH office.

So, you feel that parties also add an element of accountability — and an independent candidate can come and go and not be held responsible. Do you believe that a male candidate can run for GSCASH?
I believe that a male candidate can run for GSCASH but I also believe that the male candidate should be a feminist and he should know his privilege...i don't find it in people. My whole experience of GSCASH..I have to sit there and tell people that no means no! It is that bad in the campus! I have to sit there and tell people that if a person is asking you to stop, you have to stop - whether you're in a relationship or whether you're not in a relationship - whether you know the person or you don't know the person. You can't touch a person without asking, i have to teach that to people. And you know, men do not understand it at times..

There are cases filed against certain AISA members - one was filed against Akbar Chowdhury and a more recent one on Anmol Ratan. What was your role in those enquiries?
In the Akbar Chaudhury case, I was not a member. And, you know, when I reached the GSCASH office, the case was finished and also people who are not part of the enquiry don't interfere in other cases, and don't even know what's going on in other cases.

Akbar case was already over. The first meeting I had, the Akbar case was presented, i did not utter a word. I had no idea about the case. After that never said anything about the case. Even before that I did not.

As for the Anmol Ratan case, see, GSCASH has a rule if cases come in, and it's a person I know, or from the same party, I'm not even supposed to be in that case, and I was not. It directly went to FIR and whatever the GSCASH could do to help the complainant, they did.

Are there any qualities in your opponents this year that you admire?
I admire all the girls, man! Even from the opposition party the only thing I want is to be friends with these women, I'm friends with some of them, like Kalpana from BAPSA, we talk about everything  — starting from discussions around gender to girl talk. I haven't talked much to Aparajitha, Shabana or Nidhi but whenever we give interviews together, I keep one thing in mind and that is respect for the candidate and I hope they feel and do the same.

AISF is also fielding candidates — like Aparajitha Raja for President — on the plank of a "principled Left position". How do you feel your politics differ from theirs on any issue?
See, they're Left anyway. Even the right-wing picks up issues pertinent to the Left around elections. But for the rest of the year, have you seen AISF put posters for something? Have you seen their people come to your room campaigning, have you seen them in the marches, the protests organised by JNUSU?

Their candidate for president — she stood with the people who said "laal bhagwa ek hai, saare comrades fake hai." They did not even allow us to take our GSCASH files out of the office during the UGC blockade. We see them only when the elections are around and we still call them for alliance.

The Ambedkarite Party, BAPSA, were in a lot of debate with the Left panel and one of their slogan was "laal bhagwa ek hai", and that in JNU the left hasn't done enough for lower caste communities and backward and minority communities. Do you think their grievances are genuine?
Done enough? I'm not very sure. But the Left in this campus made the space that everyone could come in, deprivation points, MCM, viva voce , reservation — jab poore desh me kahin OBC reservation lagu nahi hua tha, JNU mein 5 point milta tha. Agar Right aisa hi karta aur laal bhagwa ek hai, toh mujhe lagta hai unko iske baare mein sochna chahiye. (When there was no OBC quota in the rest of the country, OBC applicants received 5 points in JNU entrances. If that is where the Right stands and they say that Right and Left are all the same, they should honestly think about it).

How important do you think the ABVP winning is a threat in this campus?
There is a threat, man. The VC, the administration, the Najeeb assaulters were not punished, the UGC gazette was implemented, more than a thousand seats were cut... I don't know when they'll think it's a threat. The government is a fascist government.

What is the role your background played and what you did you learn about society from it?
My father, my grandfather, my uncle, and my brothers are in the Army. I was raised in an Army family. What I learned is that the army is not a holy thing. In our society we have caste system, and in the army they have rank system. People are made to clean officers' shoes but they're not supposed to clean officers' shoes. They didn't join the army for that and I have seen from which background army people are...people who are dying are normal people, they are farmers kids, and they came there to make a living. I always wanted to work for society because I was an army kid. I always wanted to be a part of and work for this nation because I'm an army kid. One of my dreams was to go into the army. When I came to this campus and I learned i could work for society in another way, then i joined Left politics..

How did coming to JNU or joining your party influence you?
I learned a lot. I learned about Palestine, Bathani Tola and the caste system — deeply, I learned about class, about Marx. I was one of those kids who said "is desh ka kuch nai ho sakta hai" and now I want to be part of the change.

What was your teachers' role in what you are today? School or college.
All my teachers loved me. I used to be one of those kids who would always plan to disturb the class or something but my teachers always loved me and said that you would do some great things. They were always so proud.

As a person from Army background, do you feel that there are any elements in JNU that are anti-nation, by any stretch of the imagination?
No, I don't feel that. In fact, when the 9 February incident had happened, my father, who had met many of my comrades who were charged with sedition at that time, said you can send them home and we'll protect them..

Do you think issues such as triple talaq are important in campus elections like these?
Every issue is important in elections. Politics and society overlap.

What are your or your party's views on triple talaq?
We reject instant triple talaq and uphold the recent judgement.

How did you prepare for the Presidential debate and what role did your non-party friends play in your campaign in this election?
I tried my best to put in all the burning issues and i prepared for them hard. For the second part of the question, they gave me good suggestions for the speech. They were all very supportive.

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Updated Date: Sep 09, 2017 09:07:53 IST