When you look at all the colleges that are not affiliated with DUSU, you will notice that most of them turn out to be women’s colleges rather than co-ed institutions. Is this because of what the students want, or what the college administration deems “right”, or what society considers a norm?
Delhi University is defined by some key components that make up the whole “DU college experience”— the campus, the food, and the infamous student union elections. But you would be wrong to assume that this is the case in each and every college of Delhi University. As of 2019, a total of only 52 DU colleges and faculties are affiliated with the Delhi University Student Union, lovingly referred to as DUSU.
A large proportion of the colleges not-affiliated with DUSU comprise women’s colleges, leaving barely any women’s colleges to be a part of DUSU. The question arises— does an internal bias really exist amongst the female DU students to not want to be part of the process and the complications of DUSU or is this just a manifestation of a system of historical entrenchment of women, not just in politics but in society as a whole?
The scene that we witness on larger political platforms like in various state assemblies or in the parliament, with men occupying most of the positions of power and women being given only token representation, can be seen trickling down onto the university level as well. Many of the contesting groups have only one female contestant amongst a group largely dominated by male candidates, a clear misrepresentation of the ratio of male to female students in the Delhi University student body.
When DUSU is not included in it (women’s colleges), I think it is taking away a lot of political autonomy…. (when) people opt out of it (DUSU) or when we aren’t kept in the loop, we miss out on a lot of political discussions and a lot of very important decisions that can be taken by us,” says Avantika, a former student from Gargi College.
Rather than addressing the concern of college administrations themselves not wanting their colleges to be a part of DUSU, the primary concern would be to address the question of whether female students themselves want to be a part of these elections.
It is not only about if we WANT to be part of the elections or not, but also that women always have and will have more restrictions— in terms of curfews, family concerns, safety issues, etc. Essentially, the way DU politics functions currently makes it very difficult for women to be part of the same, and that gives everyone an excuse and a justification to just not include women in DUSU in general,” says a 1st-year student from Delhi University.
The kind of freedom that male candidates possess and use has always existed in parallel to women candidates. The early curfews mean that most women candidates end up being unable to dedicate the same amount of time campaigning or organising events as a male candidate and the concern for safety, specifically in a city like Delhi, does not add positively to it.
While entering into politics, women majorly face harassment, (wrongful) comments, and at times sexual torture. They are threatened and majorly, they are emotionally blackmailed,” says Meenakshi Yadav, a 2nd-year journalism student from LSR, who is also serving as the president of SFI LSR.
All these factors have, in a sense, culminated to form a sort of vicious cycle— women cannot give enough time or resources to the elections due to the systematic exclusion of women from public life, which leads to them being at a disadvantage and ultimately, in most scenarios, to them not being elected. This ends with a bare minimum representation of women in the elected panel and when women aren’t occupying decision-making positions, how do we expect women’s issues to come up and be addressed on public platforms?
But this is definitely not the only or the complete reason behind the non-participation of women’s colleges in DUSU. Most college administrations would rather not have their college be a part of DUSU, with many of them following on this path since the very beginning while others have pulled out from DUSU in recent years. “Yeh college DU politics ka part nhi hai, yahan padhayi acche se hogi” is a phrase most of the students in these non-DUSU colleges—like St. Stephens, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, or Gargi College—have heard at least once in their life, and this is exactly what the college administration exploits as well. Colleges that are not affiliated with DUSU go so far as this non-affiliation usually gets endorsed by the college administration and further appreciated by prospective students and their parents.
Most of the faculty at these colleges believe that the time during and around the DUSU elections is bubbling with hooliganism and leads to a very disruptive atmosphere in the college. Monika Nandi, associate professor at the Indraprastha College, is against taking part in DUSU elections “because of the use of money and muscle power”. But the teachers also do not hold a unanimous opinion over this. On the other hand, Bhupinder Chaudhary, associate professor at the Maharaja Agrasen College, does not feel that the issue of money and muscle power subsides by restricting the college’s or students’ access to DUSU. “All college students are above 18. If at that age they are allowed to elect the country’s government, why should they not be allowed to elect their union?” Moreover, he raises a very valid question, that is, if teachers can have their own union, the Delhi University Teacher Association, then why can’t (shouldn’t) the students?
Most of the colleges don’t want to indulge in the disturbances which come from external sources like colleges, media, students, etc. (during elections). They want to keep a peaceful environment by suppressing the opportunities of students. They fear the revolution and violence that they think they will have to face if the students are involved in Politics, ” continues Meenakshi, in conversation with a DU Beat correspondent.
College administration would rather argue that it is for the “benefit” of the female students that the college would rather not affiliate itself with DUSU, citing the same reasons that society has cited to women for centuries now— “It’s for your own safety” or “Acche ghar ki ladkiyan yeh sab nhi krti”, all platitudes to suppress the voice of women in a world standing on the foundation of patriarchal bullies and misogynistic ideals.
They tell us to lock up our doors, shut tight our windows, dress right, look down, speak low, hide away; because whatever makes it unsafe for us out there, that is not going to go away.
So yes, women have been told to hide away for decades, and yes, “men will be men” and “we can’t change the society” have been the go-to phrases for centuries of missed opportunities and stolen platforms, but does that mean that in 2022, women belonging to such prestigious institute ons like Delhi university colleges— well-educated and independent-thinking women— should be denied of opportunities as basic as being able to vote? Even though all these colleges might not be a part of DUSU but that does not mean that DUSU does not affect these colleges. None of us exist in a vacuum. Delhi University has always been and will always be highly interdependent, so how does it make sense for the college administration to deny a platform like DUSU to students just because in technicality it is allowed? How does it make sense for us to talk about women’s problems in front of a male-dominated panel, elected by a predominantly male student population, who belong to an electoral college that barely includes any women colleges? How does it make sense to be living in a time when we still need to fight for women’s suffrage?
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