It’s that time of the year again, when you can spot enthusiastic slogan chanting, distribution of pamphlets, promises being made by students contesting the critical Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) elections. I caught up with AISA (All India Students Association) student activist Kawalpreet Kaur and had a brief chat about her thoughts on the DUSU elections, AISA’s coalition with Aam Aadmi Party’s student wing – CYSS (Chatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti), and more.
Muntaha Amin: Since DUSU elections are around the corner and you’ve been a critic of the nature of the dominant politics being politics of muscle, money and power, can you tell me why that is so?
Kawalpreet Kaur: Yeah, In DU Elections, we always see this masculine model of politics. There is this lot of outsiders coming in SUVs and everything, and trying to disrupt the academic life. These people, even in politics, create this violence and fear, so, common students tend to get disillusioned with politics seeing this model, and even hesitate to vote. So what sort of politics do we imagine for us is a very important question to ask.
MA: Why are there only a few women candidates contesting the election? What is AISA doing to fix the issue of the lack of women students in active DU politics?
KK: See, if you see the statistics of the past ten years, AISA has been giving women presidential candidates every year, and this time it is an excBVP, I mean they indulge in this caste politics of Jaats and Gujjars; they actually believe that women are incapable of representing themselveseption with a male presidential candidate. Even when I contested, there were three women candidates. It is not like we are giving a token representation. When AISA is contesting on two posts, there is one male contestant and one female. And the second thing is if you see NSUI, A or leading posts. You know, they think that “ki yeh toh nahi nikaal paaegi seat” (she won’t be able to win the seat).
We also see when they campaign with just one women candidate, that they have chosen her for token representation for the post of joint secretary or something, everybody with her will be a male student “jo shor machaega” (someone who’ll make a lot of noise), and in other teams, there will be no women students. So I think somewhere deep down they actually believe that women have no space in politics and they are incapable of asserting their own voice in the campus. Now, we see women issues coming up in their manifesto, that is kahin na kahin due to a consciousness created by us that women should also be equal stakeholders.
MA: Do you think that a lot of all-women colleges which are not a part of DUSU at present should be a part of it? And why do you think they have been systematically kept away from DUSU?
KK: I think they have been kept systematically out because they don’t really want women voices in the DUSU. I come from a college which was not a part of DUSU, you know. If there were elections in our college and if we were part of DUSU, then, of course, we would have held them accountable, all these goons. And if we hold them accountable, we are not going to vote for them, we are going to vote for some alternative, and we will have our own agendas which we will push in DUSU. If you see the example of Miranda House where there are presidential debates and all, women are actually able to, you know, hold them accountable. We can bow them down, we can say ki ‘ABVP, Go back’ and ‘NSUI, nahi chaiye’ and that is why in a systematic manner women colleges are kept out so that they can have their own politics excluding women.
MA: As we see, there have been repeated attacks on freedom of speech, the Ramjas incident being the most glaring one, what has changed?
KK: We used to think that when the ABVP union goes, and NSUI comes, there will be some change, but we were wrong. NSUI is always silent on important matters, be it any anti-education policy rolled out by the govt. Or violence by ABVP members in any part of the campus NSUI never responds to any of that. NSUI won’t stand by us in the DUSU elections and defend freedom of speech. It is my 4th year in DU; I think nothing much has changed in the campus. We’ve seen how the movie screening in Kirorimal college was vandalised.
In Khalsa college, the theatre society was about to perform a play; the ABVP didn’t like it, so they banned it. The violence at Ramjas college, we all know of. If we try to do any events or campaigns, the environment has become such that we can’t even do the bare minimum. That is the level of violence!
Even teachers have become so conscious of what they say in the classrooms. I think this is the kind of self-censorship that’s happening in the campus right now due to the situation created by the ABVP. Like you know, why invite Umar Khalid, why have a discussion on Muzaffarpur, on Bastar, on caste, on Kashmir? Kashmir is a big no-no.
MA: Tell us about the bribing that takes place during elections, that you also have talked about on Facebook, during earlier elections.
KK: Yeah, it is still going on. I mean in a matter of giving notes to the students or giving them free movie tickets. Even the other day in Shyam Lal college, there was this huge bus that was taking students to the water park and the same works in hostels. In the meeting on the last day, they will give them free beer, chocolates and all that but we are telling students to not indulge in that because those who can purchase your votes, can sell your rights later on.
MA: What’s AISA hoping for this DUSU election? Tell us about the coalition with CYSS.
KK: We are contesting along with CYSS this year, the student party of AAP. Actually, we are very hopeful this time because the coalition has provided a much-needed alternative in the campus which ABVP and NSUI have failed to provide for last 15 years. They have either remained silent on pressing issues faced by the students or been violent and implemented worst policies using gundagardi. Now, there is an alternative which is very strong. We are very hopeful that students now have an alternative that does not indulge in any kind of caste politics. It will provide a new freshness to DU’s politics.
MA: What is the AISA-CYSS coalition offering in the 2018 elections? Is it any different from your previous agendas?
KK: Yeah, there are a lot of new additions to our agenda. We want to install health clinics/mohalla clinics in all colleges. We’re also focusing on infrastructural issues in the campus – improving the condition of the libraries, revise hostel curfew timings, to ensure fair representation and accountability in ICCs and more. We also want to fight for establishing an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination body on campus.
MA: Don’t you think this alliance is more of an alliance of compromise for AISA, given the recent AAP banners dominating the press conferences, the SUV campaigns and garlanded men of CYSS on campus, something you have raised your voice against time and again?
KK: No, this alliance is not at all a compromise. It is not at all an ideological compromise. We have come together on some specific agendas of the University and the press conference, of course, was the first press conference where there was this banner of AAP, but if you see the second press conference, it had both the banners. So, that was a technical thing. We have not had a merger with AAP or CYSS. We just have come together on the basis of an agenda for DU. We want politics that is against muscle power, is issue based, is against violence and gungagardi. They have come with us saying they will support us and that we will lead this coalition. Now if one of their candidates is roaming in SUVs, we are trying to talk to them and talking about how this culture alienates common students, and apart from that, we are very confident of our politics. From our side, it is not at all a compromise. We believe in providing a strong alternative in campus, and we welcome their support in our agendas.