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3 Female Candidates, No Posters: Kawalpreet Kaur On What Makes AISA Stand Apart In DU

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The Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) elections are going to be held on September 9. Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has dominated the elections for the past two years, winning all four posts in the central panel. National Students Union of India (NSUI), the student wing of the Congress is hoping to make a comeback and the All India Students Association (AISA), a reckoning force in the politics of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is trying to gain an entry in DUSU as well.

Kawalpreet Kaur, All India Students Association’s presidential candidate is a postgraduate student from the Faculty of Law, North Campus, Delhi University.

Why should people vote for you and your party?

Because we provide an alternative viewpoint. We are the organisation in the campus right now talking about students’ issues. We are not lambasting any other organisation, but rather going with the issues of the students in the class room. We are not littering the campus with our posters. If you come to campus, you will not see our posters in the hoardings. We do not feel the need to litter the campus or offer freebies. We can survive on just issues. This is the alternative model that AISA represents. At the same time, we are the only organisation which builds movements on students’ issues.I’m like any other common student. I travel by metro and right now I am travelling in an e-rickshaw. I don’t travel in a 1 crore SUV or Hummer that candidates of other parties come to campuses in. They litter the campus with posters sitting inside those cars. I travel for one and half hours daily in the metro or the bus.

If you are elected as President of DUSU, what will you aim to achieve in a year?

I’m idealistic but I will not make unrealistic promises for the year. The first agenda will be to provide better infrastructure in the university. The second would be to increase the hostel seats. We would aim to set up a pan woman Delhi University gender sensitisation committee, in which you will have a student representative so that we are not dictated by the administration. Transportation is another immediate problem. Few years back we used to have special buses for students and women. I don’t know what happened to those buses. Hostel curfew timing will also be something that I personally would like to take up.

You have three women candidates this year for the top four important positions in DUSU. Was it a conscious decision to give representation to women?

Yes, it is very important to give representation to women, but at the same time I’m really surprised that everyone is asking this same question about three women candidates.  If any other organisation can have three male candidates, then I think it’s absolutely normal to have three women candidates. Women in our organisation have the necessary leadership qualities required, so why not give them the representation? I’ve been in AISA for the past two years and if I got admission in Master’s in DU this year, then obviously the organisation will look up to me. We do not believe that we should just give seats to women for tokenism and representation.

AISA has not been successful yet in the DUSU elections but is a force to reckon with in JNU? Why do you think that is?

JNU is a closed campus, DU is not. We have a lot of colleges in DU. You have a huge chunk of undergraduates in Delhi university, which is not the case in JNU. The politics in Delhi University is largely dominated by caste politics. Most of the time, NSUI doesn’t even exist in the campus, they only come during election times. I think the main competition here is between the AISA and ABVP. These are the two organisations which have presence in the campuses today. During elections, you have money- muscle power working for other organisations. AISA did not put a single poster of a candidate on campus. If you come to North campus or any other college of Delhi University, you will see that the whole campus has been ruined with these posters. They have actually been littered with such posters and are actually violating the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations. This is how Delhi University’s elections take place. Other parties hire agencies. They have people working for them littering the campus. Students are also taken to parties. NSUI presidential candidate Nikhil Yadav, who was in ABVP last year took students to watch Jurassic Park.

You don’t have any Muslim candidate for any of the top four posts in the DUSU elections. Why is that? Also, do you have a Dalit candidate?

It’s not that we didn’t keep a Muslim candidate consciously. Two years back, AISA’s Delhi University secretary Aman Niwas, who is Muslim, contested elections and has polled the maximum number of votes in the history of AISA in the DUSU elections till now.We don’t explicitly engage in such politics but we do have a Dalit representative. But it is not something that we do consciously.

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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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