By Amrita Garg:
Rents for a room on twin-sharing basis in Kamla Nagar near Delhi University’s North Campus have shot up to Rs. 15000. University hostels, with miserable living conditions for the most part, offer less than one third of the required accommodation. The university has seen a shocking shortage of infrastructure and administrative staff for the past few years, with inefficiency and error becoming the norm rather than the exception. A glaring lack of proper information dissemination channels has seen a number of students losing out on opportunities and much needed scholarships. Classrooms lie empty as students leave after waiting for hours for teachers who are nowhere to be found. As examinations approach, the students line up for ready-made notes and “guides”.
Just a month ago, the ABVP strode into power in the Delhi University Students’ Union elections, making a clean sweep on all posts. Promises were made of changing the face of Delhi University and taking care of all these problems that the students face. But come October, I opened the newspaper to see reports of a “Cultural Values” campaign now under way in the campus. The campaign is aimed, quite admirably, at ensuring women safety. How this is sought to be achieved though, forms the crux of this story.
“We will campaign against love jihad in DU after colleges re-open. The ABVP top leadership has already announced for a campaign in all universities,” declares Rohit Chahal, ABVP national secretary.
“Live-in relationships go against the grain of Indian culture and the institution of family. It is also true that hardly any such relationship succeeds. We will form student groups in various colleges and undertake case studies to apprise girls of the detrimental effects of being in such a relationship,” explains ABVP Delhi secretary Saket Bahuguna.
To this lofty end, these defenders of Indian culture formed a human chain near the Arts Faculty on October 7, when unfortunately, most of these girls who were sought to be made aware, were away on holiday.
The question is where does student welfare activism end and moral policing begin? Does a body that represent us also have the right to make personal choices for us? Should political propaganda find its way into an issue that is so sensitive and critical for society?
The student body contends that live-in relationships lack commitment and might be unsafe for the woman. More importantly, according to them, it goes against our culture and traditions. What do they have to say about marital rape, domestic violence, extramarital affairs and abandonment? Marriage is as safe or as unsafe as any other relationship. It is simply a choice that the two parties involved should be free to make. The Honourable Supreme Court seems to agree with me. In an observation made in the 2013 Khushboo case, it said, “If a man and a woman in love decide to live together as a couple, it is well within their right to life and by no means can be deemed a criminal offence.” It has further asked the Parliament to bring in proper amendments to the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, or enact a suitable legislation so that women and children born out of live-in relationships are protected.
Indian culture, or this myopic understanding of it, has long provided an excuse to strangle our many freedoms. The ABVP itself has a notorious history of invoking it time and again to further the ideology of its patron parties. In October 2011, it forced the University Academic Council to remove AK Ramanujan’s essay “Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translations” from the Bachelors in Arts course as it hurt their “sentiments and sensibilities”. Just last year it attacked FTII (The Film and Television Institute of India) students for inviting the Kabir Kala Manch to perform at an event.
Linking the baseless rumours of Love Jihad with women safety is yet another subversion of a woman’s free choice and agency. It can, and is, being used as a weapon to take away the choice of marrying outside one’s religion for love by presenting it as a conspiracy by one community against the other. The ABVP’s stance hurts the right of young people to analyse for themselves the truth or otherwise in the allegations hurled by the likes of Yogi Adityanath, purely for political gains. It must have no place in the narrative of an institution which is striving to be among the best of the world and should thus, ideally, be looked upon as a nursery of progressive and independent thought.
I agree that women safety is one of the most important issues affecting all of us and has rightfully been taken up by the ABVP. However, it should not become the breeding ground for divisive propaganda and parochial beliefs. The student body needs to recognise the mandate given to them by the students and work on providing them succour from the many problems they face on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, we continue to pay through the nose for a room/cupboard-under-the-stairs.