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How The JNU Row Has Dramatically Changed Student Politics On Campus

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On February 9 2016, a few students of Jawaharlal Nehru University were accused of being involved in ‘anti-national’ activities and sedition charges were slapped on popular student activists. Since then, the University has either been labelled as ‘anti-national’ or treated as a bastion for free speech by most of the nation and it is believed that these labels in themselves are given by the University’s right and left wing student political parties respectively. With the JNUSU elections right around the corner, it’s politically charged environment has become even more volatile and the Feb 9 incident has a lot to do with that. Here’s how it affected the stand of some major student political parties for the upcoming JNUSU elections.

Last year, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, RSS’s student organisation, unexpectedly won a seat in the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union’s panel after a period of 14 years. Apart from Saurabh Sharma from ABVP, the central panel for JNUSU 2015 consisted of 2 members from All India Students’ Association, and one from All India Students Federation, both parties with a leftist ideology.

Since a majority of the university’s political parties and even the students’ community is believed to be ideologically left dominated and ABVP is a right-wing student organisation, chaos was bound to happen. Their differences strongly came out after Feb 9. As a consequence of this, according to the left parties, having an ABVP member in the central panel would cause problems since it has links with the central government. Hence, the idea of forming an alliance with all major left parties was formulated. However, the end result only had an alliance between AISA and Students’ Federation of India with AISF’s support.

AISA- SFI: The Left Unity

AISA and SFI are leading the Left Unity front. In the past, AISA has never collaborated with any other party but their chances of winning the elections became slim after rape allegations against Anmol Ratan. AISA and SFI’s political philosophy has quite a few differences as well but their alliance has been formed basically to defeat ABVP. Their differences are so evident that AISA’s official website states, “The hollow ‘left’ rhetoric and ritual activities of SFI and AISF have become completely disconnected with the democratic aspirations of students and the dynamic student movement… Through following an opportunist ideological- political line, they have gradually declined and become marginalised forces in the student movement.” However, they have reassured the students that they will deal with their internal differences later and defeat the larger evil first.

Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association

BAPSA refused to be a part of the Left alliance and has decided to contest on its own. This, because they believe that the rest of the parties never cater to the Dalit community and has time and again accused the others of hypocrisy. It has said that ‘the campus still suffers from the casteist brand of student politics which is advocated by both left and right’.

It is argued that BAPSA had also distanced itself from the Feb 9 incident, without lending support to a majority of the students who were being accused, unlike many of other ‘left’ parties. “We are concentrating on minority issues. Our vision is Dalit and Muslim unity. We don’t want to see this only as campus elections. We want our members to prepare for nation-wide elections where one can envision the problems occurring in the outside world,” says BAPSA’s Manikanta, a first year MPhil student at JNU.

All India Students’ Federation

All India Students Federation (AISF), which is backed by the CPI, isn’t contesting the elections this time. It was supposed to be a part of the left alliance as well, but reportedly due to disagreements regarding nominations, it decided to back out. However, it is still extending support to the AISA-SFI alliance. Kanhaiya Kumar, President JNUSU 2015, said, “To avoid a repeat of last year, when the ABVP won a central panel post after 14 years, the AISF has decided not to field any candidates. We call for support to all Left, progressive and democratic forces to defeat the ABVP.”

Democratic Student’s Federation

DSF, a splinter of SFI, isn’t a part of the left unity apparently because it spoke against the way the Anmol Ratan case was handled by AISA. DSF is only contesting for the position of Joint Secretary and there’s a possibility that this might split votes from AISA-SFI.

Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students’ Organisation

BASO doesn’t support fighting elections as per the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations. A few members of Democratic Students’ Union, a radical left party, recently quit the party to create BASO due to DSU’s lack of emphasis on gender discrimination.

The February 9 incident has indeed caused a paradigm shift in JNU’s student politics. While opinions may vary regarding the incident, one cannot deny that it has succeeded in raising some important questions – from the definition of nationalism and the need for student politics; to the relevance of sedition in a democratic society. As a result, the new JNUSU will bear a much larger responsibility and it will be interesting to see what the new panel will bring to the table in the coming year.

Image source: Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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