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From Caste Issues To The Ban On Student Politics: A Student On Campus Life At Jamia

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By Towfeeq Wani:

Having lived for many years in hostels, my sack of memories is mostly filled with my life in a residence hall. Over all these years I kept changing institutions and hostels to defy any attempt of settling at one particular place. As such, whenever I board a new hostel, I have what I call a ‘scale of comparison’ in my mind. I weigh every new place on this scale with the previous places I have stayed in.

Two years ago, when I got a chance to stay in the Hall of Residence for Boys of Jamia Millia, they said I was one of the lucky 1200 boys since the Hall can accommodate no more than that. My friends, who were not selected for the same, decided to live in rented rooms and flats in Jamia Nagar locality, around the University. Most of my mates were living in the hostel for the first time in their lives.

Two years later, they often tell me how living in a hostel completely changed them, for good as well as bad. For me, that had happened many ago. Now I despise having to hear and read such stories where students narrate how hostels changed all their habits and personality, and how they will miss it all their lives.

However, having said that, a few experiences which I had in my new hostel did change the way I understand the politics behind different actions. Experiencing less and observing more has helped me understand that nothing is devoid of politics and that every act is but a political one.

Caste And Religion At Play

Having spent a few weeks in my new hostel, I observed that everyone working there belonged to the Muslim community. The warden, caretakers, mess workers, gardeners – all of them. I supposed this was how a Muslim minority institution functioned. Even though we had (and have) a lot of students from other communities living there, many of whom are my friends, there was nobody from other communities among the workers.

One fine morning, still half asleep, I noticed that the sweeper who came almost every day to clean our room was a Hindu. I could tell this from the different threads he wore on his wrist. It was no less than a revelation. I had finally spotted someone I had wanted to all this time. Moments later, when he had left the room, I was perturbed as it dawned on me that a person from a majority community was a sweeper or a janitor at the most, in a minority institution. At the same time, those belonging to the minority community held posts that I considered better off. Was it a reversal of sorts?

In the coming weeks, I noticed that not only him but all the other sweepers I saw were what I would describe as Hindus. In the meantime, I got friendly with the one who cleaned our room in the mornings, but I could never muster the courage to ask him what I suspected.

After a few months, I got a chance to visit Aligarh Muslim University, where I had studied earlier. As I sat with my friends, rekindling our memories, I told one of them about my observation. He wasn’t surprised at all. Instead, he asked me how come I hadn’t noticed that in Aligarh itself. He told me that they belonged to what the Hindus considered the lower caste. I was aghast! This is not what I had suspected at all. Of course, they were being paid for the job they were doing, but to think that they still were not able to break free from the strict caste and class divisions was alarming for me.

This incident taught me that there are so many minorities within a majority who are worse off than the larger minority itself. These people are often the most neglected. It also taught me that these manmade divisions and hierarchical orders creep up in every corner of the society, even in unimaginable places.

Security Or Captivity?

Once inside the Jamia hostel premises, it didn’t take me more than a few hours to notice that it was a walled enclosure. All around the hostel campus, there was a thick stone or brick wall. Over that, angle iron braces had been erected to support concertina wires further. Surveillance cameras had been installed at the entrance of every hostel.

At first, I thought it was meant for the safety and security of the students. Walls and concertina wires had probably been put in place to prevent the locals of Jamia Nagar or elsewhere to trespass on the university property. Things that are more loved, they told us, were to be protected in a ‘better’ way.

However, what they forgot to mention in this often repeated narrative is that humans do not qualify as mere things. They are not like gold bars you need to secure in Fort Knox. Too much ‘security’ leads to interference, which in turn ensures captivity, both of physical and psychological nature.

As months passed by and proving your identity at the hostel gates got more and more irritating, I understood what many students meant when they called Jamia a ‘security state.’ Similarly, in August 2015, when the residents of Hall of Residence for Girls raised voice against the sexist hostel policies for the umpteenth time, the administration reminded us yet again that it was for our own safety and security. Every night, as I sit on the balcony of my room overlooking the jungle of concrete that Jamia Nagar has become, I ponder over how much of security really makes us secure and at what point do we feel insecure due to excessive security.

Student Politics A No Show

While settling in my room on one of my first few days at the hostel, I opened the cupboard they had allocated to me. Before I was to fill it with my clothes and other belongings, I noticed a small poster of a certain student political organisation glued to its inside. At first, I thought a lover or a follower of this certain political organisation might have put it up there.

But then, it struck me, why inside the cupboard? I really could not answer this one for a long time. A year later, as I was researching for a story about the student politics of Jamia Millia, I came to know that the Students’ Union elections had last been banned in 2006, and there is little or no ‘political’ activity allowed on the campus. Guards keep roaming around, observing and monitoring the activities of the students. They have been vested with the authority to declare any assembly of students as unlawful, as and when they deem fit. Sometimes they even mistake the birthday songs as cries of unjust freedom and rebellion.

As I found out, the small poster inside the cupboard, as such, was metaphorical. It revealed to me at our very first encounter the state of affairs of the student politics on campus – that it’s hidden inside closets, if even present at all. Only that it took me some time to understand it.

Take campus conversations to the next level. Become a YKA Campus Correspondent today! Mail us at campus@youthkiawaaz.com.

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Banner and featured image source: Jamia Milia Islamia/Facebook
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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.

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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)’.

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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.”

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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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