Jadavpur University in Kolkata had its student union elections in January. Much like every other student election, political parties rallied around the campus, promising to make the university even better than it already is. However, if there is one thing that shined through the whole process, it was the promise of creating an inclusive atmosphere; all candidates were promising to make the university a safe space for people with non-normative gender identities.
Of all these candidates, one person who stood out was Asmita Sarkar, All India Students’ Association’s candidate for the post of assistant general secretary of the university’s Arts Faculty Students’ Union. Asmita is the first candidate who identifies as a lesbian to ever contest in student elections at Jadavpur University. I got the opportunity to speak to Asmita to know her story.
Born in Burdwan, she came out to her parents when she was in her first year of college. Often ridiculed for her ‘boy-like’ attitude, not only did she face severe discrimination from her acquaintances and teachers, but also from her own family, who refused to accept her identity.
Despite all that she went through, Asmita came out and has grown up to be proud of her identity. She said, “It is very important to come out of the closet because the society must learn that being a person who has a non-binary identity is nothing against nature.”
In India, while many have let go of the gender biases ingrained in us, a majority of the population is still homophobic. Commenting on the current scenario, Asmita said, “More often than not, people don’t accept that there is anything called homosexuality. It is almost like we don’t even belong in the same place; there is no place for the LGBT in Indian society.” She also believes that there is no way discrimination can be fought unless the authorities take action. She said, “One needs to be taught about gender and sexuality from primary level itself. The problem we are facing is that sex education in itself is a taboo in India.”
Asmita, as a student representative and gender rights activist, aimed to make Jadavpur University a more inclusive space. For instance, she wanted to change how, according to her, most women’s washrooms university are closed in the evening for no apparent reason. The party she belongs to also promised to build a gender neutral washroom which would be open for all, irrespective of sexual orientation and identity. All India Students’ Association didn’t win the elections, but even the party that did, Students’ Federation of India, has similar aims – making a gender neutral washroom, workshops to raise awareness about gender and sexuality, etc. Hence, it looks like Jadavpur University will soon be a more inclusive and safe space for all.
The AISA members, in various Facebook posts, have written, “AISA congratulates the elected office bearers of AFSU and hopes that they will uphold the commitment they have made towards the student community. We also hope that the union will recognise the fallacy of the regressive hooliganism practised in campuses during the 34 years of Left Front rule.”
When asked what she’d like to convey to all those who are struggling with their identity, Asmita said, “I would tell them to never lose hope. The dictatorship of the society against your and my struggle tries to bring us down. But we won’t bow down because, RSS, BJP or Manusmriti cannot decide or dictate our sexuality or freedom.”