This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Kunal Gupta. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How Do You Navigate Political Differences In A University Classroom?

More from Kunal Gupta

Our identities are informed by the political alignments that we grow up around, and we carry those experiences with us when we enter our classrooms. 

Our time in university is also a very volatile time for a lot of us because our ideas about where our political alignments lie are already changing, and we are developing a political consciousness that is very different from what we previously had. On top of that, many of us begin to grow politically aware of the reality around us during this time. 

All of this makes our universities melting pots for different cultures and varying ideologies. When people with such deep-seated differences encounter each other, their perception of each other remains susceptible to harmful and extreme beliefs.

The reasons for this danger are difficult to keep in check.

People who are like us and have the same ideas about the world as us give strength to our own convictions. Most of our friendships are based on common ideological grounds because that seems natural and healthy to us. But this can have toxic consequences.

The Root Of The Problem

By gravitating towards sameness and multiplying that sameness, we create pockets of homogeneity. What separates these pockets from each other is our awareness of difference. We can be part of multiple pockets, but we will only be active in one at any given time. We can only participate in one pocket at a time because it gives our convictions and ideology a strong presence, which helps in affirming our beliefs. Our awareness of difference not only comes from our identities but also informs our identities.

How Can This Be Toxic?

Our awareness of difference can restrict our willingness to immerse ourselves in other perspectives.

The ‘pocket of homogeneity’ is an analogy for our tendency to be resistant to different/opposing ideologies. We would much rather engage in sameness than try to acknowledge the validity of difference. And while we might be willing to accept difference and respect it, mere awareness of difference will always distance us from pockets of homogeneity that are different from us. We will always be different about political ideologies other than ours.

The difference is obvious, which makes it challenging to acknowledge it. We need to stop thinking of differences as obvious, not take them for granted, not simply make do with awareness or recognition. We need to move past that and acknowledge our differences. Our ability to accept differences will always be tentative if we fail to acknowledge what makes us different from others.

Navigating multiple pockets can therefore be a very difficult, tricky, and draining task. People who hold opinions different from ours are normally not easy to talk to, because we tend to perceive our differences as threats to our own ideas and perspectives. So we tend to ignore those differences or work around them without addressing them. This makes it ‘less natural’ to be friendly with them.

The difference, or the mere awareness of it, becomes a hindrance in our understanding of the other’s position.

Representational Image

When people with different ideologies come together to bridge their differences, they can make their classroom a healthier space for discussion.

The First Necessary Realisation

Encountering political differences can potentially polarise our classrooms if we stop at the awareness of difference. If you are a heterosexual person and are faced with the choice of discussing gender and sexuality either with another heterosexual person or with a queer person, which option will you go for in the majority of cases? The fear of being the antagonist, if you are a politically sensitive person, will push you to go for the former. Going for the latter requires you to be educated about the issue to a certain extent so that your differences become a source of empathy and further learning. The fear of being the antagonist is therefore an obstacle for inclusive and progressive politics within our classrooms.

But there is another side to this: our classrooms are already polarized. Whether or not we are aware of the differences does not affect the presence and validity of those differences. When we have different political ideologies within a small space like a classroom, it is impossible to ignore or dismiss opinions and statements that are outright discriminatory, unethical, and ignorant of political differences. We understand that something about our own political alignments interacts with issues of ignorance and what is right or wrong.

In short, our politics becomes engaged with someone else’s politics. Despite our differences, our political ideologies have the potential to interface with each other and affect one another. This opens up the avenue for the two steps to navigate political differences that I will discuss below. 

Step 1: Go Beyond Accepting Differences. Embrace Them!

When we are in a politically charged conversation, we are taking a stance about the other person’s stance, a political position about their political position. It would be dangerous here to think of oneself as opposing the other in certain debates, even though in essence that is what one would be doing. When we take a stance in opposition to something, we essentially take our differences for granted. This holds the risk of propagating the same prejudices and perceptions that shape our understanding of our own as well as others’ political ideologies outside the classroom.

If we let that happen, there can be no empathy and understanding across differences. Our politics engages us in action and expression for causes that matter, but without empathy, without learning about our differences from perspectives other than our own, we cannot navigate the differences in a manner that actually makes a difference.

Our willingness to learn must come with our willingness to be politically engaged. We cannot take our differences for granted, because making an impact requires those differences to change their relations to each other. Within our classrooms, people with different ideologies can come together to inform each other and bridge their differences. This not only creates a healthy learning environment but also makes the classroom space a safe space for divergent political thought and critical thinking.

It is important to emphasize that this is possible only when we are willing to listen to each other and learn from our disagreements when we are willing to stop thinking of our political differences as simply personal oppositions.

 The ‘agree to disagree’ attitude is definitely not the right way to go if we want to be able to navigate our political differences, because our disagreements about political issues are not personal in nature. They are political in nature. 

But it is easy to substitute one for the other. We should be wary of doing that. We can substitute the personal with the political, potentially making our interactions across differences meaningful. But to substitute the political with the personal reduces our chances of empathizing and coming together as a community. There is no inherent threat of indifference.

Step 2: Stop Yourself When You Feel Like You’re Being Apolitical

If embracing our differences is the first step, then the second step should be to overcome the apprehensiveness of offending people who hold different opinions and also of being offended by those people. 

Politics by nature is divisive. The stronger our political convictions are, the more reactionary and divisive our encounters with different political ideologies. The apprehensiveness to step over the boundaries that we lay down for ourselves usually stems from a fear of being invalidated or invalidating by someone else. So we have to ask ourselves the question: what does being apprehensive in this context mean, and what does getting over it bring to us?

Representational Image

While it is important to be inclusive of other opinions, one shouldn’t be apolitical.

Today, the need to navigate our differences has become important for the majority of us because of a growing apprehension towards suppressing and undermining voices and experiences that don’t come from the same place as ours. For minorities, this need has grown in importance so that they can make themselves heard, and be able to act effectively for a better, safer place for themselves. Our apprehensions can therefore make our classrooms uncomfortable for politically charged discussions, more specifically for political minorities, and can harm our relations with people across differences.

If we can embrace our differences, then all our different political ideologies will be engaged at once. What this gives us is the chance to learn how politics affects people in real-time, in turn showing us how our own political ideologies are constructed and where they ignore aspects of reality that don’t touch us directly. Not only does this create a healthy environment in our classrooms, but also makes way for better, healthier friendships, and teaches us about how the same political issues touch different people’s lives at any given point in time.

There Is No Default Map Of Political Differences

If we are to navigate our differences, we need to be able to see the other from the eyes of the other, to be empathetic and not just sympathetic. Simply accepting our differences does not help us navigate them even though it is the first step in the process. Being able to step over our boundaries and actually immerse ourselves in the politics that are shaped by our differences is the second, more crucial step. This stepping out is a process in itself. When we are willing to be political with our opinions and beliefs, instead of taking them as extensions of our personality, we are suspending ourselves in a volatile space. We inform each other and support each other.

At least, that’s the ideal.

You must be to comment.

More from Kunal Gupta

Similar Posts

By Simran Pavecha

By Amya Roy

By Prakhar Srivastava

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below