A common point on the agenda of every political party is women’s safety. Candidates promise to make the campus a safer space for women with the use of surveillance and police presence everywhere. But the question that looms in the air is where consent is during the elections.
As the Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) elections inch closer, the University of Delhi (DU) experiences hooliganism at its best. Keeping aside the forgeries, muscle power, and the waste of paper, the elections also turn into a breeding ground for harassment and violation of personal space. It starts with the handing out of pamphlets and flyers at the metro station. Party members, associates, and strangers get in the way to hand out pamphlets and cards while whispering the classic ‘please vote and support’ in the ear. This violation of personal boundaries continues in the e-rickshaw and till the college gates where a line of supporters stand to greet the students, ask to vote for certain candidates, and force students to memorise their ballot numbers.
“As I enter college, people in line ask me to vote for certain candidates and repeat their names and ballot numbers and promise that I’ll vote for them,” says Chhavi, a first-year student at Sri Venkateswara College. A student, who requested to stay anonymous, shared, “I was on my way to the metro station from college, and three men on a bike followed me till the gate while shouting the name of a candidate.” A second-year student from Ramjas College also added, “As I was entering college, men in white shirts were trying to hand pamphlets to students forcefully. I avoided their gaze and continued walking but a car from the parking lot came in front of me. Though the car was metres away, one of the men jumped in front of me, held both of my hands and said in a meeting tone, ‘Sambhal ke chalo yaar, gaadi ag jati’(Be careful while you walk, you could have hurt yourself).”
The harassment continues in so many more ways. From shaking one’s hand forcibly or sending unnecessary Facebook friend requests, to Instagram photos no one gave consent for or getting student’s numbers from the admission form to ask “if they need any help”. As a matter of fact, no one does. They just need you to respect their space.The understanding of consent, boundaries, and harassment lie unclear in the minds of election campaigners and candidates. Even if they do understand, they choose to ignore it.
Pooja Thakur, Professor at the Department of History, Ramjas College, says, “Instead of running a campaign on taking up issues most pertinent to the students and upholding democratic functioning and gender parity and treating the posts they stand for as positions of responsibility and not of power, they end up doing the very opposite. Within the colleges they end up disturbing classes with the beating of drums, loud sloganeering and bursting of crackers. Apart from this, they use tactics as is used in any mainstream political campaigns by distributing freebies to organising informal freshers parties. They also use tactics like confiscation of the students ID cards which is only given to them on the day of voting wherein they are pressurised into voting for their candidates.”
The University is meant to be a place where ideas and dissent run free, where students can finally have the safe space they deserve. Instead, seeds of hooliganism, fear, and censorship lie in its lap. As time passes, more allegations of harassment surface; it makes one wonder, is the University of Delhi turning into space where identities are punished for who they are? Amidst all election manifestos, we are yet to see any points about the queer community or the Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi community. Climate change is another issue the parties continue to sleep on. The still silence on issues of inclusivity and harassment serves as a reminder of our privileges.
Image Credits : Jaishree Kumar for Du Beat.