ABVP’s ‘Pledge For Women’s Safety’ Is All Kinds Of Problematic

On September 12, 2018, more than one lakh students who are currently enrolled in the University of Delhi will be voting to elect the students’ union from a total of 23 candidates for the coming year. The forerunners in the 2018 elections are from three parties – NSUI (National Students’ Union of India), ABVP (Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad) and the new coalition between AISA (All India Students Association) and CYSS (Chatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti).

The student wing of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) – ABVP fielded four candidates who had been fervently campaigning till September 11. A significant portion of their campaigning also took place on social media platforms. On their Facebook page, the rhetoric is easy to spot. You’d see stark patches of saffron interspersed with the candidates’ smiling faces and ballot numbers.

What’s particularly striking is the discord between the head-splitting videos, responses of the candidates in interviews, and the manifesto (which manages to cover substantial ground).

The election campaign’s main promotional video was shared on the ABVP DELHI Facebook page on September 10. The promo is almost four minutes long and seems like a crossover between Baahubali and Singham that has an expensive but rather unnecessary guest appearance by Akshay Kumar. There’s fire, smoke, embossed fonts, the voice echo effect, quotes by Swami Vivekananda and a background score fit for war – the only thing that was missing were the highlights from the manifesto or students’ issues the candidates would address if they’re elected to power. Barring a few visuals on what to expect, the hypermasculine, ‘patriotic’ video is an empty but loud call to action for votes. You can hear the presidential candidate Ankiv Baisoya promising a ‘credible and vibrant DUSU’ but that’s just about it.

You can also see the presidential candidate repeating his responses in an almost parrot-like fashion in interviews. When Newslaundry’s special correspondent Amit Bhardwaj asked Baisoya what steps he would take to create a favourable environment for the LGBTQ community in the University, in light of the historic SC judgement on Section 377, his only response was to provide security to queer students. Bhardwaj tried to nudge him towards an alternative response by asking if he had any plans to sensitise students but Baisoya kept going back to wanting to provide security.

You can also spot this urge to ‘protect’ in ABVP’s ‘Pledge for Women Safety, Security and Gender Sensitization’ – a Facebook visual with eight bullet points on a pink background that largely focuses on increasing police presence and protection outside hostels, self-defence training camps in colleges to make women students more ‘self-confident’. The setting up of a permanent DUSU office with ‘a welcoming atmosphere’ where students can take up issues or share suggestions with the union and the emphasis on the elections to set up Internal Complaint Committees are noteworthy mentions. However, all of the steps on the ‘Pledge’ visual are preventive or damage control measures which are important but they also come with the assumption that sexual harassment or violence will occur. The ‘gender sensitization’ bit is also missing from the visual.

From the violence that occurred at Zakir Husain College on September 11 where vice presidential candidate Shakti Singh had gone to campaign, AISA student activist Kawalpreet Kaur recently alleged that she was attacked by ABVP members, disruption of Pinjra Tod rallies to the violence that broke out at Ramjas College in early 2017, ABVP has an infamous record. It sort of explains their approach to women’s safety.

Other issues that found a place in ABVP’s manifesto included rent control in paying guests and flats in the vicinity of the University, addressing issues sportspersons face like attendance and access to the stadium, setting up better redressal mechanisms for students from marginalised communities and more.

The election results will be announced on  September 13, 2018.

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