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Exclusive: Interview With DUSU President On NOTA, Caste And Rahul Gandhi

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Q: Arun Jaitley, Vijay Goel, Ajay Maken, Rajiv Goswami (during the time of the Mandal Commission report) have all served as DUSU Presidents at important points in our country’s history. Be it around the time of the emergency, after Indira Gandhi’s death or during the Mandal Commission. DUSU has been used as a stepping stone not only for making an entry into Indian politics but to advocate for major causes in India’s history. As DUSU President, what do you feel the role of the Student Union is and should be and do you believe that the Union should be taking a stand on major national issues? And by this, I mean in a constructive manner, not like we saw last year at Ramjas.

Rocky Tusheer: Students from each state in the country are currently studying at Delhi University. And while the mundane issues of student life will continue to dominate student politics, it is important for us to be talking about national issues as well – because the leaders of tomorrow are certainly going to be coming from this lot here. Therefore, I think it’s very important, in a non-partisan way, to take national matters in front of the students and to have them debate upon the matter in a constructive manner.

We are presently raising the issue of how important it is to maintain the institutions that uphold India’s democracy. For example, at present, there is a lot of discussion about the tampering of EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines), about a singular ideology being pasted on the people and students.

For the past four years, such was the case in Delhi University, where there was real stagnation in people exercising political choice. Therefore, we started a campaign called meri marzi (my right, my choice), in which we encouraged people to understand their rights and their choices. Under this campaign, we called students, both girls and boys to address certain issues on gender inequality such as hostel timings as well as a number of other issues where people could talk about their grievances freely.

Q: In DUSU elections the saying is famous, “kabhi gujjar kabhi jaat”, can you help us understand how and why the DUSU election has become so caste dominant? Does one necessarily have to be a member of either caste to get support?

RT: There is no confinement in terms of which communities’ candidate stand for elections. I am a Jat and belong to the community, but if you see the other elected officials on the panel, they don’t just belong to a single community. In the Delhi University Student Union election, leadership is the paramount parameter.

When it comes to community consolidation in the DUSU election, there is a factor of some colleges having a larger concentration of a particular community – but I still believe this is not a major factor. At most, there is a minuscule difference that this makes. It’s natural at the end of the day, that the students who are politically active, and those who raise their voice on issues on behalf of other students – will continue to hold these positions and attract attention from political parties.

Q: NOTA Factor is a big issue in Delhi University, with less than 50% of the students voting during the elections. Do you think that most students of Delhi University do not connect with student politics? Why is there such less turnout?

RT: There are almost four lakh students in Delhi University, we get 5 days to do our canvassing. It’s possible that because of this short time period we aren’t able to reach all the students. Last year, the vote percentage was 35.3%, this year it has still increased to 42.9%.

One of the other reasons that possibly leads to less turnout in elections is the negativity created about being politically active by teachers. Especially the college principals, I have felt this myself – when I was active in college politics in my undergraduate years, the principal lodged two FIRs against me for no good reason. Other people were fighting, but because I was visible and politically active – the FIR was lodged against me. Therefore, such negative perceptions towards students being politically are causing this attitude.

I believe that the Lyngdoh Commission’s recommendations also systematically have a role to play in the fall in student activism. Making 75% attendance compulsory to fulfil the passing criterion. If one has to attend all these classes to fulfill the Lyngdoh requirements, then how can a student make time to be politically active and raise issues on behalf of other students?

Q: Since you are from NSUI, which is the Congress’s student wing, it’s appropriate to ask as to what you think of the party today. Three and a half years after the Modi Tsunami in 2014, do you believe there is a desire for the Congress to return under the leadership of Mr Rahul Gandhi, given that the party is at a major turning point, with the Congress’s younger generation taking more and more responsibility?

RT: This change in the political atmosphere I believe is coming largely from students who have been fooled by this government’s numerous promises of jobs and a bright economic future. The 18-25 year old demographic was a major votary for the BJP in 2014. As for the generational shift that is taking place in politics today, I think this is very important – and my personal belief is that people should retire from politics once they attain an age where the younger generation can more successfully carry out those important duties of national service. They should continue doing socially useful work, but should continue to give young people the chance to step up, take responsibility and make a difference, whichever party they may be in.

As Rahul Gandhi rises to the post of President, the Congress party will certainly be endowed with a new vigour. Congress is a party which has internal democracy, be it the NSUI or Youth Congress, there are elections for posts within these organizations. As Mr Gandhi assumes this leadership position as a result of these democratic procedures I honestly believe, as I’ve said before, that the young cadre of the party will feel a tremendous tailwind.

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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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