DUSU Election 2017: Delhi University's North East students, women remain on fringes of campus politics

Delhi University’s Student Union (DUSU) elections are scheduled for 12 September.

A poll-bound North Campus looks something like this: There are garlanded campaigners backed by a gang of loud sloganeers that go from one college to another, hundreds of the same posters are pasted on walls, behind e-rickshaws, and even on billboards.

Unimaginatively, these bear only the name and party of the candidate. Ask the student, who goes around campus with slouched backpacks, what they think of politics, and they say, “It’s a good launch pad for a longer career in national politics.”

Some other students huddled outside chai and maggi stalls say, “People enroll in law degrees to contest and stay in the university longer, there is big money in politics and easy fame.”

Amidst U-Special buses are several SUVs carrying an entourage of campaigners, dressed, quite predictably, in white kurtas and jeans. Yet another student says, “The candidates are mostly from the Jat and Gurjar community. In 2016-17 all four posts (president, vice president, secretary and joint secretary) were won by candidates from these communities that are, for whatever reason, infamous for rowdiness. Why can’t elections be issue-based and intelligent?” they ask.

This one-sidedness is lending incompleteness to this so called democratic exercise, and the absence of women and students from North East is particularly hard to ignore.

Of the 22 women’s colleges in Delhi University, only five colleges participate in DUSU elections. These include Aditi Mahavidyalaya, Lakshmibai College, Bhagini Nivedita College, Miranda House and SP Mukherji College for Women. This means that a little less than 80 percent of DU’s women students don’t cast their vote.

Let’s take the example of Gurmehar Kaur, whose social media outburst against ABVP made her famous. Today, she can’t vote because she’s a student of Lady Shri Ram College, which isn’t a part of DUSU. “Within our college premises, our voice is free. In our college union elections, there’s a budgetary limit of Rs 3,000 per candidate and only one prop can be used,” says Kaur, a literature student.

If women’s colleges are embraced within the larger democratic machinery, they will bring in higher standards of discipline and might make the student wings of big political parties like the National Students Union of India (NSUI) and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) more accountable towards maintaining peace.

“What’s the point of being cynical and protecting the girls from ‘dirty politics?’ What comes out of protectionist and patriarchal spaces is a regressive mindset because girls might not have the tools or awareness to find their own voice in an increasingly political society, It is a sort of ideological incarceration,” says Sandhya D Nambiar, professor of English at Jesus and Mary College, another politically inactive college for women in DU’s South Campus.

 DUSU Election 2017: Delhi Universitys North East students, women remain on fringes of campus politics

Representational image. AFP

The role of women in the last six years has been limited to the positions of general secretary and joint secretary, with the exception of ABVP’s Priyanka Chhawri, who served as the vice-president of the union in 2016-17.

Kawal Preet Kaur of the All India Students Association (AISA) joined the party when she was an undergrad student at Indraprastha College for Women, which isn’t affiliated to DUSU. She is now pursuing a degree in law from the university.

“In big parties like NSUI and ABVP, women representation is more of tokenism. DU politics is masculine in nature and it is part of AISA’s agenda to push for off-campus women’s colleges to join DUSU because to change a system one has to first be a part of it,” explains the girl who is busy campaigning these days.

Instead of ensuring the safety of girls in a volatile environment, it’s easier to just keep them away from it all. “This is nothing but benevolent sexism,” says Itisha Nagar, professor of psychology at Kamala Nehru College, an all-girls college in South Delhi.

The lack of being able to participate can be internalised by the girls as not being capable enough, which leads to disenchantment with student issues at large. She feels that being politically in sync with the rest of the students might be helpful in an era of social movements like Pinjra Tod (break the hostel locks), a fight for secure, affordable and not gender-discriminatory accommodation for women students across Delhi.

Last year, when the Delhi University inserted the None of The Above (NOTA) button on ballot boxes, 17,712 voters opted for it and this meant a seven percent dip in student participation from the 2015. Earlier this year, St Stephens’, the alma mater of politicians like Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor, decided to apply for autonomy. When granted, St Stephens' will be free to take its own decisions in framing syllabus, fee structure, and starting new college branches. The institution doesn’t participate in DUSU elections and isn’t a member of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association either. The oldest college in Delhi (established in 1881) now stands amidst the DUSU’s annual blitzkrieg, as though disapprovingly.

The other ignored segment of voters that is suffering from disenchantment is students from the North East. There are more than 20,000 of them, out of which less than 5,000 cast their vote, according to statistics shared by the North East Students' Society Delhi University (NESSDU), which was established in 2012.

Subrato Borah, a former chairman of the organisation, says the students are fed up of being treated like second class citizens. He raises the issue of lack of accommodation for northeastern students and asks why large empty spaces within the campus cannot be utilised to construct more hostels.

“The Rajiv Gandhi Girls Hostel was built with funds from the DoNER Ministry but 1,000 out of the 2,500 seats have been given to outsiders. There are no hostels for our boys. Why would the students be interested in voting if basic needs haven’t been addressed in so many years?” asks Borah. He adds that Kiren Rijiju, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, is also from the North East and that students aren't seeing him take any concrete steps to make their lives simpler, which further forces them to give up on the system and recede into their cocoons.

Rijum Rijum, who is pursuing History (Honours) from Bhagat Singh college and hails from Arunachal Pradesh, points out that the students unions don’t raise issues such as why Hindi is a qualifying subject when students from the North East aren’t familiar with it.  “People in North India treat us like foreigners because of the lack of awareness about our culture. There should be more about our history and culture in the curriculum,” he said.

Pinky Baishy, former cultural secretary of DUSU, volunteers a little known fact: She used to conduct meetings with the Delhi Police so students in need of translators could reach out for help. Another reason for the present polling ratio is the fact that students from the North East often don’t contest elections. “Unless there are candidates the students can identify with, the voter turnout won’t increase,” says Adarsh Saharia who is from Assam and is contesting independently for the post of president from law faculty.

Professor Kamei Aphun, who teaches sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, says  a Nodal Office for northeastern students may be present in every college, but claims that this person is largely inactive unless a specific complaint needs to be addressed.

There’s thus a need for a more positive outreach by these bodies so that students from the North East feel their positioning in DU is more than that of a group constantly caught up in law and order complications.

“The North East is seen as one block of votes and social mixture is limited. The problem with North East cells is that only students from the seven states of the North East participate and that further pushes them into a corner, when what’s actually needed is integration,” said Amrapali Basumatary, who teaches English at Kirori Mal College.

The problem is that successful integration requires a nuanced analysis and strategic action and at least till now, DUSU doesn’t seem to have either.

"Iss mulkh ne har shaks jo ko kaam tha saunpa, uss shaks ne uss kaam ki maachis jalakar chhod dee
(Everyone in India was given a particular work to do. But they instead let it burn down to the ground)

Piyush Mishra’s dialogue from the political drama film Gulaal can be used to sum-up student politics in Delhi University in one cinematic frame.

The scene on campus is akin to the scene of match sticks in the hands of some, being lit with passion and fury, only to ultimately die to the floor.

A temporary passion has become permanent at the cost of democratic reason.

Updated Date: Sep 10, 2017 13:45:59 IST