The Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) remains to be the umbrella students’ union for the University of Delhi (DU). It is an integral part of a DU student’s life, and thus, it’s only fair that the DUSU elections carry a lot of weight and hype. It allows a DU student to exercise their right of universal adult franchise, and elect members they believe would be accountable for them.
A result of this significance is that representation in this students’ union becomes excessively important. However, women as a whole continue to remain an under-represented demographic in this political equation. Every year during elections, the choosing ballot is scarce with female candidates. In fact, this ratio is prevalent not only in DUSU elections but in elections for general college union as well. The ratio of candidates contesting in co-ed colleges remains skewed even in 2019.
Why is that?
Other than the fact that co-ed colleges inherently have a larger male population, there is a sly tool of sexism at work as well. “I personally believe that the way in which sexism operates in college and DUSU-level elections is not very upfront. No one will come and speak to your face that they won’t support you because you’re a girl. But, things will be done that point in the same direction. When a girl is contesting college elections, what she’s wearing counts, where she goes after college counts, the people she stays with counts, but when the same things are [considered] about a guy, they’re often neglected, stating ki “ye to ladke hain, ye toh aise hee karte hain. (they are boys, they do this.)” This is the kind of sexism that gets played at elections, and it causes a huge backlash for the girl, and thus these elections become very emotionally challenging,” Vani Nautiyal, a third-year B.A. (Hons.) English student, told DU Beat, as she recalled her own experience about contesting for the post of President for the student union of Hansraj. She recalled how all these things, she was often conscious about what she was wearing, or what she spoke about and how she spoke about it.
Another problem that arises is convincing parents to give their permission for this candidacy. DU elections are infamously synonymous with hooliganism and goons. And though money and muscle power remains to be a barrier- or a boon- for both male and female candidates, it becomes a much urgent issue for safety wherein women are concerned. Time curfews, the way women are supposed to behave, sexist remarks and even death threats, or just the general conservatism that prevails is what hinders a woman from campaigning.
“I come from a conservative family. Thankfully I was given a convent education but the intention behind that too was modesty and other discipline related morality that girls are expected to carry with them. This itself is extremely prejudiced, but what was not intended, happened. Education made me critical, aware. After schooling when I again joined a convent women’s institution this process of education and a critical engagement made me even more aware of my rights as a woman. I remember the time when I used to get calls from home at as early as 3-4 pm and I know a lot many girls get such calls from home. But over time, I feel our family also grows with us with changing context and time. The freedom I achieved has been a result of constant negotiations that I made with my family, at times friendly requesting and other times firmly asserting. I know for a woman economic independence is one important aspect to exercise freedom and for that reason, I have been giving tuitions. So the entire process of elections for me had layered restrictions, I was told that I could stay out only for a given period of time and moreover since I had to give tuitions as well, I had to anyway return home to balance my political freedom and economic freedom. Many of us negotiate these ways and I honestly believe that women irrespective of other social cleavages based on caste or religion, have had their own stories of struggle – be it in extremely evident or subtle ways. More power to all the women, the struggle is on and we’ll win surely,” Damini Kain, the Presidential candidate for AISA in the DUSU elections of 2019, told DU Beat.
Another thing that perhaps dilutes this already thinning pool of women candidates is the apolitical culture propagated by women’s colleges in DU. Other than Aditi Mahavidyalaya, Miranda House, and Bhagini Nivedita College, all women’s colleges in DU are not affiliated with DUSU and remain non-political. Their withdrawal from DUSU means that their students do not get to vote for the DUSU elections, nor do their colleges get involved in the political scene. Therefore, they remain largely unrepresented in the umbrella students’ union, and also, by choosing to practice apoliticism, the college infringes on the students’ universal adult franchise- their right to vote for their representatives. “Except for three, none of the women colleges in Delhi University are a part of DUSU. This means that despite having universal adult franchise at the national level, women studying in a women’s college of a central university like DU are deprived of their very fundamental right to vote. This is undoubtedly regressive, with an underlying logic which is grouted in patriarchy. Administrators often say that not being a part of DUSU ensures the safety and security of women. I, as a woman, strongly reject this flawed notion of security which works only to impose restrictions on us. We don’t need security, we need freedom from patriarchy. The right to vote and to contest elections is a fundamental right and – as a student activist – I wish for all women students to be given this right,” Damini commented.
The propagation of this apolitical scenario creates a culture of political passiveness amidst the female student population if the various restrictions to campaigning and candidacy don’t already do so. Both the factors culminate to not just create a detached student population, but a student body that remains largely unaccountable to a considerable portion of DU population. Thus, the participation of women in DUSU- be it as candidates, or voters- remains to be a pressing issue as far as the democracy of the university is concerned.
Feature Image Credits: Business Today