The alliance between All India Students Association and Students’ Federation of India, also known as Left Unity, formed the central panel of JNUSU 2016-2017. The alliance came into being to keep Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad(ABVP), RSS’s students’ wing, out of the Union. AISA-SFI had the support of a left wing party, All India Students Federation (AISF), the student wing of Communist Party of India, and was competing with another, Democratic Student’s Federation (DSF). This year, AISA, SFI and DSF have allied, again citing the purpose of not letting a member of ABVP be elected to the Union.
In 2011, when Geeta Kumari joined Jawaharlal Nehru University to pursue B.A. (Hon.) in French, she had no aspirations to become a student leader. Interestingly, that year, there were no JNUSU elections as the Supreme Court had imposed a ban on it. Student protests, rallying to the parliament, and hunger strikes were regular affairs on campus. It was during this period that she became interested in politics and subsequently joined AISA, the student organisation of the left wing Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation.
Now, Geeta is a second-year MPhil student of Modern History in the University, the outgoing student representative of the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH), and the Left Unity’s (AISA-SFI-DSF alliance) Presidential candidate for JNUSU 2017. I had a chat with her about the outgoing JNUSU, her competitors and challenges. Here’s what she had to say.
Amrita Singh (AS): What is the biggest issue in JNU right now?
Geeta Kumari (GK): The Vice-Chancellor (VC) is trying to destroy our University on a policy level. Institutionally, our democratic spaces are shrinking day by day. Our biggest issue is undoubtedly the seat cut because of which 1000 students couldn’t join the University. JNU is known for its research and this year, there were centres that didn’t even have one seat (in MPhil/PhD programmes). Even the seats that were there didn’t have any reservation or deprivation points. Our first priority will be to get back these seats. Also, our VC is attacking democratic spaces like the GSCASH. The VC has formed a committee to revise the functionality of GSCASH which has members that say that only weak women go to GSCASH. Five out of nine members of the committee are men, deciding the functionality of a sexual harassment committee.
AS: Last year, a member of AISA was accused of rape. Has the party taken any initiative to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again?
GK: It was a grave concern for us. You have to take the initiative to sensitise people, and AISA has done that. As I was the GSCASH representative from the same organisation, I was the one who took charge. A few of our members have formed a charter of things where we discuss sexuality, women’s movement and gender. We have organised talks for our comrades from Kavitha Krishnan and Sucheta De. We have been conducting such workshops on a regular basis.
AS: This time the Left Unity has DSF, a party which the Left Unity was at war with last year. This alliance is being termed by many as political opportunism. What do you have to say about that?
GK: Even last year we took out a poster asking to form an alliance. It wasn’t just us who wanted it – it was a popular demand by the student community, after the February 9 incident, that all the Left Progressive forces should align so that ABVP doesn’t get even a single seat in the central panel. It was because one person from ABVP got elected that the incident had happened. So we did an open call for everyone. DSF didn’t come into the alliance last year. But this year, again we did a call, and DSF was ready. It’s not about egos because the political situation is such where we really can’t give the fascist government any space to capture our union – it’s the only platform of resistance that we have. The Vice Chancellor and ABVP belong to the same ideology and are out to destroy the university. All of us talked, and the students demanded this alliance.
AS: There are also ideological clashes between the three parties. Do you think this will create a problem if you get elected?
GK: JNU has a history of struggling unitedly, and whether someone is in the alliance or not in the alliance – all the progressive democratic forces have always come together. Whether it was for the February 9 movement or the UGC movement, we believe that unity is in the struggle. So this is also not political opportunism, it’s building up a movement so that we work together. Last year also there was a similar problem, and it worked out, but yes, we really can’t predict the future.
AS: AISF’s presidential candidate thinks that JNUSU has failed the students. Do you think so as well?
GK: More than 150 protests were organised on campus last year by JNUSU. This has never happened in the history of JNUSU. The attack on the University was such that we couldn’t even rest for a while. It was one incident after another – the 9th February incident, inquiries against students, Najeeb’s disappearance, Ad-block grills, court cases, UGC guidelines. How do you see this as a failure? The Rohith Vemula movement was massive and even so, the committee today says that he committed suicide because of personal reasons. The achievement of a movement is not in getting something; it’s in people standing together and creating resistance. What do you expect from such a fascist government who isn’t listening to you? They aren’t meeting JNUSU people. But the JNUSU never backed out. It’s their opinion, but we don’t see it as a failure.
AS: BAPSA has time and again alleged that other parties do not give enough importance to issues that people from minority communities face…
GK: It was an AISA lead union which led the struggle for the implementation of the madrasa certificate in the campus. We have even been demanding for the minority deprivation points. The first union which demanded that was also an AISA led Union. Gender deprivation points, reservations, amongst other things make this a socialist campus. Of course, we know that there is discrimination at the institutional level. It was AISA that first raised the issue of viva voce marks being discriminatory, not BAPSA. We were the ones who analysed and presented that data about there being discrimination on language basis, on caste basis. After the struggle, the Nafey committee gave it in writing that yes, discrimination happens and viva weight should be reduced, but then the new VC was appointed.