The Evergreen Appeal Of The Delhi University Student Elections

Nothing much has changed since I last published an article on student politics in 2018, when I was a fresher in Delhi University. It is just my age that has changed, but not the scenario. I quote what I mentioned last year:

“Delhi University is one of the most prestigious central universities in India both for academics and fun. The most fun season when you can enjoy your college life is during the fests and the time of elections which makes you realise the meaning of being a responsible citizen as well. Elections are held every five years in our country for all tiers of the government.

But in Delhi University, which is the epicentre of student politics, we experience a unique political season every year in August-September. Is this election really a representation of student leaders or is it a platform for future politicians?”

This time, the Delhi University Students’ Union Elections are scheduled for September 12, 2019, and the powerful RSS-backed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, INC-backed National Students Union of India and some left-wing students organisations like Students Federation of India of CPI (M), All India Students Association of CPI (ML), All Indian Students Federation and not to forget, CYSS of Aam Aadmi Party are ready to contest the much-awaited and sort-of general elections this year. Some people I know very well are also contesting this year.

Well, what excites most of the students is not the range of candidates but the fights between two groups which are very common in Delhi University, especially in colleges of South Campus.

Democracy is just a word in our law books which are covered by a thick layer of dust, showing the ignorance (even) of the cleaners of library shelves.  Many students have been protesting outside the Arts Faculty at North Campus for the last couple of days next to the student activists of CYSS, for the demands of students.

What is democracy? Is it a new form of anarchy for students in Delhi University or is it a license for vendetta politics, or license to use money and muscle to influence votes? Or is it really in its crudest form, a saviour?

Democracy as a system of governance which is being followed blindly should also be questioned at the national level but to start with, let’s ask these questions at the student level. I do not have the intention to name any organisation but we get news of an activist from party ‘A’ beating an activist from party ‘B’ – are we even talking about democracy at this point? If we are in a democratic nation, it must be a representative democracy and everyone must have a say.

Scenes from a victory rally post DU student elections in 2017. (Photo: Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Do we have the right to contest in free and fair elections (which we haven’t seen for ages though)? In a nation with over 50% of its population under 25, this question becomes crucial for the existence of the democratic structure. It is very obvious that student politics is influenced by national politics. We see in our parliament, our representatives throwing paper balls at the Speaker, using pepper sprays, watching restricted content, using unparliamentary language and of course, we see the electoral system of this nation being tampered with. Then, what can we expect from the young minds? Though I see a ray of hope from some leaders of different student political organisations.

There are many problems in Indian universities and Delhi in particular. Very recently, the Central Library was open for 24×7 access, which was a welcome change. We have issues of fee hike, lack of infrastructure, lack of hostels, transportation issues and many other things as mentioned in the manifesto of different organisations but politics is a game of promises and fabricated lies (even nationally) and unfulfilled promises.

In this article, I cannot force you to believe in anything that I write but equate these things with your life and you will automatically believe my hypothesis. As per the rule, candidates are not allowed to get a convoy of cars but they do. Candidates are provided with a budget of ₹5,000 for promotion and campaigning, but they spend lakhs on it. Most importantly, the High Court has ordered not to stick any posters on the walls of colleges and the university campus but take a walk in North Campus and you will see the ‘Wall of Democracy’ covered with posters. So, are we producing leaders? Well, I will leave that to you.

Last year, I mentioned in the article; do not vote for those who ask you to vote, support and elect, but vote for someone who can bring change in this university, because a majority is important but a majority is not everything in the university scenario.

I was reading a book by the former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and there was something that I found appropriate to quote here, “a young child says, ‘what can you do?’ A politician says, ‘tell me what I should do for you? But a leader says, ‘let us work together.'” (Though these are not the exact wordings but the synopsis is clear.) Today, politics is largely limited to the second phrase, “Tell me what I should do for you?”

All the freshers by now must have given their numbers to almost every candidate campaigning in Delhi University. The most comical thing I experienced in my first year at one of the South Campus colleges was that every single candidate who approached us asking for a vote would say, “support the deserving candidate.” But what is the definition of deserving?

I am in favour of student politics in Indian universities but I am against the money-muscle politics, caste-based politics and vendetta politics, which is present in Delhi University in its entirety. Even at the national level, the new-age political figures are mostly ideologically hollow and the case is very similar to Indian universities.

So to conclude, yes these elections are exciting, they get violent sometimes, but still remain a platform to express your dissent as a student. We must select our representative keeping in mind that they are the right person to address our issues at the university level. These elections are a platform for responsible leaders who are not here just for indulging in politics but to really question the authorities and find solutions for various student-related issues. With this, I still have hopes for a better tomorrow.

Tu zinda hai, toh zindagi ki jeet par zakeen kar
Agar kahin hai swarg toh utaar laa zameen par.
Yeh gham ke aur chaar din, sitam ke aur chaar din
Yeh din bhi jayenge guzar, guzar gaye hazaar din.
Kabhi toh hogi iss chaman mein bahar ki nazar
Agar kahin hai swarg toh utaar laa zameen par.
Tu zinda hai!

(If you are alive, then believe in the victory of life
Bring down the heavens to earth if you must.
There are only four days of despair, of torture
These too shall pass, and a thousand more days too.
Someday there will be a glimpse of blossom in this garden,
Bring down the heavens to earth if you must.
If you are alive!)

Ending with a note of hope that I should not write anything like this next year!

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.
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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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