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As I Leave DU In Rage, A Message Of Hope I Want To Share With The New Batch

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By Kawalpreet Kaur:

Soon, the final semester results will start pouring in and Delhi University will officially close its doors for me. I will be a graduate of an esteemed college from one of the most prestigious universities of India. My university, which usually makes headlines for its sky-high or sometimes 100% cut-offs, roaring fests, and sometimes obscure pay packages, is now back in the news again. Like all the previous years, this year too, anxious parents and aspirants continue to line up outside colleges in the fretting heat with the hope to secure a seat in the premier university, known for its high cut-offs. This year, the respite has come, but only in the form of relatively pleasant weather and not in the cut-offs, which seems to have only gone higher, higher than last year, higher than the previous for certain courses. But in the zeal of turning it into the ‘best’ university, somewhere we are missing an important point, i.e. why does the university continue to offer only 60,000 seats with 63 colleges and no new colleges are opened, even when the number of aspiring students continue to surpass every year?

Prior to taking admission, I was always in awe of the sacred ‘aura‘ attached with DU as my father, who has been working in DU for the past 25 years, used to recite so many stories of joy, achievements, its professors, research work, sports day, farewell, festivals etc., to me. Delhi University, from his eyes, was a society in which a student absorbed the graces and accomplishments of a higher form of life; where academics is the pursuit of larger truth and an active discussion is transpired with culture and society. What is taught inside the classroom is linked with the realities of larger world outside. As Cardinal Newman, an important Catholic intellectual, pointed out, “In the University the gentleman does not merely know things; he is receptive to the tone, the meaning, the lived reality of what he knows.” Thus, the general principles of any subject can be learned by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life which makes it, is learned in university.  It is not simply a repository of knowledge but it shapes a well-formed and graceful personality.

Protests Against FYUP In Delhi University
DUTA protesting against FYUP. Source: Sushil Kumar/Getty

With this idea, my journey in DU started, but I didn’t know that I was destined to be a student of the erstwhile FYUP batch and during my time, the university unfortunately made headlines for all the wrong reasons. As if, the unfortunate guinea pig experiment of the Four Year Undergraduate Program was not enough; with the change in the helm of government, a similar, ill-structured, Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) was imposed on the next batch. As I am a student of psychology, a course which gives maximum weightage to the practical component, under the CBCS system, the component was reduced and core papers were diluted to a large extent. As if that was not enough, they introduced the relative grading system which only added more fuel to the existing chaos.

Entering final year made me realise that what I had studied in the cocoon of my classroom was controlled by the policies of our governments.

The priorities of the government on higher education speaks loudly when on one hand, institutes like IITs and IIMs are witnessing major fee hikes, some even by 100%, and on the other, premier institutes like FTII and now NIFT are clamping under the burden of ‘politically motivated’ appointments. The appointed chairpersons have displayed no knowledge or credibility in their respective fields of art; the only credential being or being affiliated to members of the ruling party. Also, the major push to change the syllabus in the textbooks of primary schools and removal of references of Gandhi and addition of V.S. Savarkar of the Hindu Mahasabha, infamous for being a British stooge, as our ‘hero’ of the freedom movement, speaks volumes about the divisive agenda being pursued by the Government.

The slash in the funds by NDA government dedicated to the education sector has jeopardised higher education even further.  The fund cuts present another gloomy picture for students and teachers alike. The latest UGC gazette notification has led my university professors to boycott the admission process. The notification would have increased the work hours of teachers excessively while simultaneously undermining the quality of education and cutting the jobs of over tens of thousands of ad-hoc professors in DU alone.  Our professors have been going round-the-clock in different colleges, talking to students, their parents and telling them about the reasons for boycotting the admission process. One of the important reasons given by teachers is that, since 2008, no major post has been filled in DU and the teachers are not being appointed permanently even if they have been working for years in colleges and are also denied promotions.  This spells the crisis, the premier university is in!

Whenever these unprecedented attacks on university autonomy and quality are challenged, ABVP, the ruling party in the student union, gets active on the ground to shut every voice of dissent against its parent body and also ensures that it vandalises every scope of discussion and debate. Recently, when professor Chaman Lal from JNU was invited to give a talk on Bhagat Singh, it was disrupted by the infamous union. We must ask how hallow are their claims of celebrating Bhagat Singh and Dr. B R Ambedkar, when any discussion on their ideas are vandalised and termed ‘anti-national’. When Rohith Vemula in HCU challenged the hegemony of these goondas, he was reduced to being casteist and anti-national.

Activists from ABVP raise their hands as they shout slogans during a protest march in Jammu
Activists from ABVP. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

I ask, when I am leaving my university, what has become of you? Few years back, this would have sounded incomprehensible that regressive student unions openly give diktats to ban societies, theatre groups, and disrupt movie screenings which don’t pass its ‘nationalist’ test or, simply, which exposes them. My friend saw her own professor being roughed up by these scouts in Kirori Mal College over the screening of the documentary “Muzaffarnagar Baki Hai“. Did they do this to silence the truth of Muzaffarnagar or to hide the misdeeds of their own party men who were accused of provoking riots?

From disrupting seminars to assaulting professors, as recent as in SRCC College, these custodians of “Bharat mata ki jai” leave no instance to issue a character certificate for ‘women’ students in campus. They displayed the same arrogance when journalists from The Quint were conducting a survey on ‘Sexual preferences and safety’ with the prior consent of students and assaulted women journalists in campus, in the name of protecting culture. We must ask unequivocally what ‘culture’ is it that forces a woman to not talk about her will freely.

Now, when I bid goodbye, my head lies in shame that a student in my university has lost his capacity to hear from one ear after being thrashed by ABVP goons in his own college while he was assisting students with admissions. He alleged that the goons were not students from his college and were led by Himanshu Bidhuri, the son of BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri from south Delhi, who asked him to chant, “Bharat mata ki jai”. When he refused to give in to their coercive demand, he was beaten up. Is this thinking any different from those who think they can do anything as long as they enjoy political patronage and impunity from any law? Abhinav, a student of Deshandhu College and an activist of AISA was admitted in the AIIMS trauma centre after the attack. No FIR has been registered in the case till now as police has been delaying it over silly excuses. This violence and political shielding is no longer new to my campus and I know this too wouldn’t be the last unfortunate case. This only spells the danger of how quickly the low-level fascism, generated in the name of threats and fear, is catching up in our universities.

I know every heart bleeds with the massacre in Dhaka, Baghdad and now in Medina and I see a common thread which binds them all with Abhinav. In Dhaka, they were killed for not reciting verses from the Quran and in India, similar certificates of patriotism are being distributed in the name of “Bharat mata ki jai” daily, to silence everyone who questions and dissent.

Here I bid my final adieu to my alma mater who taught me to fight, to stand in all adverse. As I look at the smiling faces of the new ones coming to DU, I see hope in their eyes. I know they will learn to fight back like the FYUP batch did, like Rohith did, like the CBCS students did, like FTII and JNU. I want to leave with the hope that they wouldn’t succumb to the designs of the fascist scouts and that the student-teacher unity of my campus will continue to stand against all such attacks.  The goondaism in the name of nationalism in campuses should end and I hope that all campuses will rise in rage to preserve what universities are meant to teach us i.e., free thinking.

In rage,

Kawalpreet Kaur
Batch of 2016
IP College for Women

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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