Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) election in its depressing dichotomy is a showcase and a tantrum. Those who contest elections orchestrate a drama – using pamphlets, slogans and token representation for props – rife with underpinnings of money, muscle, falsity and repetition while the electorate watches on. Then, there is the perennial tantrum of the electorate – the thematic homogeneity of the drama and its evident ruse, bad actors and their annual play titled ‘development’ but is really about ‘funds’.
Every year, the drama rages on, sometimes reaching a crescendo when candidates wearing marigold garlands around their necks storm into classrooms, scream “Jai Bheem” to establish backward-caste solidarity, but it hasn’t yet gone far enough to extend its tokenism to the LGBTQIA+ community. A systematic silence has remained most prudent, at least for the twin protagonists, the hegemonic twins, ABVP and NSUI. Ankiv Baisoya, the Presidential candidate for ABVP this year, on being asked how he planned to make DU more inclusive for the queer community in an interview by Newslaundry remained at a loss. It seemed as if he had only really confronted the existence of the community when “Supreme Court ka order aaya” (regarding the scrapping of section 377).
AISA’s Abhigyan, on the other hand, appeared aware and supportive, recognising the need for sensitisation on campus even though Section 377 had been legally thrown into the bin. Meghna Mehra, a student of DU, affiliated to AISA and in her own words, “the first asexual student leader of India” says that her coming out to AISA was a kind of litmus test that the party passed. “It is kind of obvious that AISA is supportive, considering it is a communist and progressive organisation”, she said. Mehra went on to evoke Asmita Sarkar, a bisexual woman who contested elections at Jadavpur University from AISA and said many “gender non-conforming, bisexual (and so on) individuals” are affiliated to AISA and are open about their gender and sexuality within the organisation, if not outside of it.
However, the larger mass of the community remains disillusioned and indifferent to DUSU. Raabiya, a trans woman studying in DU was asked how DUSU and the queer community intersect. In response, she said, “For the most part, the relation between the LGBT community and DUSU elections is far farced. Just a few days ago, I was travelling near-by college when a group of candidates called me over. When I did not pay attention, they said, “Arrey yeh toh woh haen”, clearly hinting at the fact that I happen to be a trans woman. Their rather derogatory way to say this was unexpected from someone who pledges to be at the rescue for everyone. Also, since many LGBTQ people choose to stay in the closet due to such instances, there’s no way an informal contact between the DUSU and the community can be established.”
Another student, Hritvika Lakhera, who identifies as a lesbian and is part of the MHQC (Miranda House Queer Collective) replied to the same question saying, “I don’t think I can tell you anything about DUSU’s involvement with the queer community since they do nothing for us.”
Many in the community don’t even vote during the election. Raabiya said, “I did vote last time after hours of standing in a queue. But, this time I have lost hope and won’t be.” However, the community has for calling its own queer collectives within some colleges like Miranda and the more consolidated and centralised Delhi University Queer Collective (DUQC) that function like support and discussion groups, interactive forums and the like. Last year, in a progressive effort, the NSUI-led DUSU inaugurated the DU Gender Cell but it is yet to see proaction. Meghna also talked affectionately about Pinjra Tod, an autonomous collective that does not contest elections but has long remained supportive of the LGBTQIA+. According to her, the queer community rejects mainstream politics and finds the idea of having a single leader as its symbol and face problematic. Instead, they place their faith in collectives and support groups.
But a “premier” university campus like Delhi University remains largely homophobic and transphobic and ignorant of gender fluidity, the spectrum of sexuality, and so on. What are the immediate institutional and infrastructural requirements? Besides, inclusivity is not parallel to the scrapping of archaic and regressive laws. It is more social and psychological and needs protean effort. Hritvika from Miranda had many suggestions, given that so much remains to be done. “For one thing, we need support from student unions and administration to establish queer collectives in every college, just like there are women’s development cells in every college. Miranda House already has one but even that is not yet sanctioned by the authorities which hinders a lot of the work. Once these collectives are set up, sensitisation programmes are important. Another thing is having cishet students interact with queer students and realise that we’re not all that different from them. There must be proper redressal system under the anti-harassment policies for students who are bullied or harassed for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gender inclusive language in official documents and unisex washrooms in colleges are also important installations.”
Students from the queer community are demanding representation, sensitisation and inclusion on campus, only the elaborate drama of DUSU shies away.