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Watch: The Full Speeches Of JNU’s 5 Presidential Candidates Before Election Day

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By Shivanshi Khanna and Apoorva Sinha:

The notion that Jawaharlal Nehru University Campus never sleeps came true on the night of September 7 2016 – when the student community turned up in large numbers (read 6000-7000 approximately) to attend the much-awaited Presidential debates of the JNUSU elections 2016. So when most of us were planning to take rest after a day full of exhaustion, the JNU Campus was wide awake – with its Presidential candidates geared up to face the students. Starting at 10 pm, presidential candidates belonging to different parties came forward to share their perspectives with the students and the event lasted for five hours – with the question answer session ending at 3 AM in the morning. Here’s what all that you might have missed last night (or rather, earlier this morning!).

Rahul Sonpimple, BAPSA’s candidate for the post of the President, began his speech by extending support to the people in the Kashmir Valley, and went on to talk about the LGBT Community and its efforts to make India reflect upon Section 377. In his speech, he extensively talked about the different issues pertaining to women and even thanked his fellow friends who helped him realise the evils of patriarchy; also extending support to the women in Manipur, and applauding their courage to raise voices against the atrocities by Indian Army.

Rahul also touched upon the Rohith Vemula case and the recent arguments involving whether he belonged to the Dalit or the OBC community, saying that the focus of the debate needs to be more on the reasons for his suicide. He made it a point to condemn the RSS ideology and said that it wasn’t right to label a person who believes in equality for one and all. He made strong promises like changing the ‘anti-national’ perception associated with the left-wing politics and ensuring a fall in the drop-out rates, especially by women and students from the minority communities.

The presidential candidate for the AISA-SFI alliance, Mohit Pandey, began his speech with reference to the February 9 incident involving Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid; and went to mention how his party supported all those who were a part of the ‘Stand with JNU’ movement – condemning those who spread the notion of ‘Shut down JNU’. Expressing his concerns about the atrocities that took place recently in Una (Gujarat), he went on to say that the fight of their party was similar to the cause of the Dalit Community in Una. In his speech, he ridiculed the discriminatory behaviour of the Police – which would blindly accept the case of sedition against Umar Khalid, but not if it were to be filed against a member of the Hindu community. Concluding his speech, he condemned the acts of the parties involved in instilling a sense of fear towards the Muslim community in the minds of the people, assured that his party would fight against this behaviour.

Sunny Dhiman, the Presidential candidate for National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), began his speech by crediting Rohith Vemula’s mother as his motivation behind contesting elections. Throughout his speech, he emphasised on the state of affairs after the BJP was voted to power at the Centre. Ideas like – “Ache din ayenge, jab Modi ji jayenge” – were recurrent and comparisons were drawn between ABVP and the ISIS. Through the use of the anecdote of a ‘prince and his desire to wear something unique’ he said that under the rule of BJP even laughing could become an act of sedition, and one could be asked to leave the country for doing so! He concluded his speech with talking about the state of affairs on the JNU campus and how different voices and points of views were being curbed and people were being targeted.

Janhawi Ojha, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad’s (ABVP) candidate for the post of President (and the only woman last night on the panel) addressed the student community by expressing her solidarity with people who have suffered at the hands of the Naxalites. She then went on to talk about how the student community should question every party on what they have done for JNU previously, before they decide to cast their votes. She challenged those who had doubts about ABVP’s work for JNU, and said she would have no hesitation in sharing the party’s ‘report card’ with them. She expressed her concerns for issues faced by women across the world, and especially extended her concerns for the women facing sexual exploitation at the hands of organisations such as Boko Haram and ISIS.

Referring to the recent incident of rape of a female student within the JNU campus, she questioned the silence of the other parties and said – “Bahar rape ho to Nirbhaya, campus mai rape toh kuch nahi hua” (If a rape happens outside campus, it becomes ‘Nirbhaaya’, but is ignored if something happens on campus). She assured the student community to work for their welfare, as well as that of the nation and concluded her speech by saying that students of JNU have every right to decide whether to sit or not sit for the campus placements – and no political party should make that decision for them.

Dileep Kumar, the Presidential candidate for Students’ Front for Swaraj, continually expressed dissent over the ideology of political parties such as RSS and BJP. He stated, again and again, that such parties were to be held responsible for spreading venom and poison in the hearts of the fellow citizens and held them responsible for ruining the state of politics in our country.

After the fierce round of speeches, a very crucial question and answer session commenced. The energy among the candidates as well as the audience remained equal and worked in tandem. Because of the heat of debate, the night saw a large number of people throng at Ganga dhaba for food and drinks, and discussion too. The first round of question and answers was to take place among the candidates where each candidate was supposed to respond to the questions posed by the other candidates. Each candidate was allowed to ask a maximum of two questions to every respondent, the respondents were given one and a half minute to answer each question. Rahul Sonpimple, the first to face a barrage of questions was asked to clear the stand of his party on the ‘Stand with JNU’ movement – to which he answered that his party stands with all those oppressed. ABVP’s candidate, Janhawi faced strong rhetoric and questions regarding her party’s pamphlets – which had stated that the North-Easterns run a sex racket. In the final round for the debate, the audience posed questions to the candidates – the excitement refused to recede and people were glued to their places till the very end of the debate.

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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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