Bani Bains


For anyone who likes to read, immersing oneself into a story, a thought process, an idea, an opinion is so fascinating – our books become the little niches we make for ourselves; niches that may be happy or sad, full of optimism or rigidly cynical, but are all ours, and influence us in more ways than we are perhaps even conscious of. For any avid reader, choosing favourites out of these little niches is incomprehensibly hard. Which book made me think harder? Which book completely changed the way I think? Which book helped me get through a stressful time? Having struggled with these questions for a bit, I’ve finally come up with the four books that changed my life:


 The Color Purple, Alice Walker – Alice Walker introduced  me to what it was like to be a black woman in the most  objectionably racist and sexist environments – a reality for many people even today. Written in the form of letters by a black woman (initially to ‘God’ and then to her sister), The Color Purple is tragic yet liberating. At sixteen, the book taught me that even the very construction of the figure of the Almighty (seen by most imaginations as a white man) is packed with patriarchy and racism. Everything about this book made me think differently, and I pick it up every now and then, just for some perspective.



Black Skins, White Masks, Frantz Fanon – I was introduced to this book in a classroom, where Fanon’s thought of internalized racism touched me deeply enough to be interested in a book that was part of the course curriculum – and it was possibly one of the most intelligent things I have done. Black Skins, White Masks makes you question the way you see yourself, the lens with which you look at yourself when you look into the mirror and makes you understand the numerous subconscious biases you hold against yourself. This devastatingly beautiful book changed my life in ways that are difficult to put into words.


Feminism is for Everybody, Bell Hooks – Short, comprehensive and incredible, Feminism is for Everybody was the first book I read on Feminism (possibly because it is most easily available on the internet – you could grab a PDF off Google – it will be worth it!), and it has only intrigued me to know more about the fascinating and courageous women’s movements across the globe and the political ideology.


The Palace of Illusions, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – It’s hard to put this book down. The Palace of Illusions taught me how important perspective is in viewing every situation. Having read it in my first year of college, when I was constantly deconstructing all my ideas of black and white, right and wrong, Divakaruni’s book reaffirmed all that I was learning in class about the ‘lens’ with which we view life. Seen from the eyes of Draupadi, the epic Mahabharata becomes a completely different, and far more overwhelming story.


The final day of Lady Shri Ram College’s Genderknowledge started as brilliantly as the previous ones, with a visual presentation of the Representation of Gendered Identities and Sexuality by Vidya Shivadas, art intellectual and Director of the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, moderated by LSR professor Jonathan Koshy. The presentation carried throughout John Berger’s theoretical framework of the ‘ways of seeing’ as defining and shaping the ways of being. Shivadas started her presentation with a quote from George Baselitz, an acclaimed German artist who said that the biggest problem with women artists was that none of them could actually paint! She then took the audience through both Indian and European works of art throughout history that showed how gender has been structured. The works she displayed also reflected the reciprocal nature of vision, and raised questions of nude paintings, women artists and feminist art.

Following this was a performance that is difficult to capture in words, a performance that had to be seen to be believed – Mallika Taneja’s ‘Thoda Dhyaan Se’. A one act play that captured the entire culture of victim blaming, it was described aptly by Mr. Ravinder, LSR professor as an ‘act of epic proportions’. It also reflected the power of mediums like theatre and art in expressing and showcasing the issue of gendered violence.

The first plenary ended with an overwhelming panel discussion on masculinities – the distinguished panel was moderated by Karuna Rajeeva and Sameer Chopra, Professors of the LSR English Department, and consisted of eminent filmmaker Rahul Roy, professor and poet Akhil Katyal and PhD student Vikramaditya Sahai. The idea that masculinity ‘demands’ of men to never speak about what it is to be men, or how one feels if one is a man and the intrinsic connections between masculinity and violence were deconstructed by Rahul Roy, and drawn on by Akhil Katyal who put several questions of sexuality in South Asia in particular historical contexts – speaking of how India has always had ‘same sex desire’ but the word ‘samlaingikta’ is contemporary, and can therefore, not be used to describe all same sex desire that has ever existed on the subcontinent. He then spoke about the various terms used to understand homosocial behaviour in popular hindi porn culture – gaybaaazi, laundabaazi, and ‘gandi aadat’ and how they influence perceptions on homosexuality. The most lively, though, was Vikramaditya Sahai – identifying as queer and having draped a saree on male body. The use of the body as a symbol of resistance, a mark of protest as well as critiquing the queer movement from within were some poignant and important contributions Vikramadtiya made not only to our understanding of masculinity, but also queer theory and politics.


Plenary two, or the afternoon session was themed ‘The womb and beyond’, and started with a panel discussion on gender and health, moderated by Parul Bansal and Priyanka Banerjee, consisting of Dr. Anoop Dhar (who beautifully decoded the perceptions of mental health and gender throughout the centuries believing that what we see today is the ‘Mcdonalidization of Mental Health Institutions), Gynecologist Dr. Puneet Bedi (who complicated the idea of reproductive freedoms that come with safe abortion and contraception and linked them to the still prevalent practice of female feticide) and Deepa ji ( who gave us an insight into the tabooed practice of surrogacy, the objectification of women’s bodies that it leads to and the general stigma around the practice.)
This was followed by the screening of Vani Subramanium’s ‘It’s a boy’ which brought out interesting contemporary patriarchal practices and modern technologies being used for the patriarchal agenda (sex selective abortions, MMS scandals etc).


The congress came to a close with “Daastan Goi: The Lost Art Form of Urdu Story-Telling” which was performed by Manu Sikander Dhingra and Nadeem Shah and directed by Mahmood Faroogu. Ms. Sonali Mishra, Assistant Professor of History at LSR, introduced their session. It consisted of the narration of an Urdu ‘dastaan’ called Chauboli about women, wit, and standing up for one another in an oppressive system.


This was followed by the final performance by Asmita theatre group, “Dastak: Voice against women atrocities” directed by Arvind Gaur  highlighting the heinous violence and harassment against women in public and personal spheres.

Image Credit: Sahiba Chawdhary for DU Beat

The second day of Genderknowledge, the LSR Academic Congress saw yet another set of fantastic panels, lectures and performances, and yet another smitten, awed audience.

The first plenary of the day was called “Humari Awaaz Suno: Gender and Marginalized Voices”, which started with distinguished a panel of distinguished filmmaker Anand Patwardhan and exemplary scholar Gopal Guru, moderated by Dr. Sunalini Kumar, LSR Professor. Prof. S Thoarat, Chairman of the ICSSR was also to be there but could not make it due to ill health. The panel discussed in depth the operations of caste and gender in India – with Gopal Guru speaking about the institution of marriage (something unique to the human species) as performing almost arbitrarily, the function of reproducing caste. Anand Patwardhan showed the caste and gender nexus differently, but equally powerfully – through clippings of some of his most beautiful films – Waves of Revolution (Kranti ki Tarange) and Father, Son and Holy War (His famous film Jai Bhim Comrade has already been screened as a pre-congress event a few days back).


Session two gave us a different way of looking at gender and marginalized voices, with a panel consisting of renowned feminist writer and publisher Urvashi Butalia, Sunita Choudhary – north India’s first woman to become an auto rickshaw driver, Meenu Vadera (Secretary, Azad Foundation and Director, Sakha Consulting Wings Pvt. Ltd.) along with three women who drive Taxis at Sakha – Shanti, Saroj – the guest of honour though seemed implicitly to have been Baby Haldar, a domestic worker whose three books have been translated in multiple languages and read across the world. The session was moderated by LSR professor Dr. Nayana Das Gupta. Each of these women spoke of their lives, their experiences and many in tears.

The first half of the day also had a musical interlude by Azaad Parindey, a choir from Azad foundation. Azaad Parindey is a choir formed by a group of trainee drivers at Sakha. Their music was filled with inspiring lyrics, which the audience enjoyed a lot. The first half ended with the screening of the documentary “Fragments of a Past” by Uma Chakravarthy. Uma Chakravarty is a feminist historian. The documentary focuses on the life and works of a woman political activist. The screening was followed by a round of questions with Uma Chakravarty. The session was moderated by Bindu Menon.

The afternoon plenary was moderated by the Principal Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath and started with a lecture by the acclaimed Feminist theorist Mary.E John – her analysis on issues of violence and sexuality in India – especially discussions on the Ramisabi Case and the Mathura case were extremely intriguing. Further, she gave us a sense of the violence of exclusion in the Indian workspace – where only 15% women are getting paid for work.

This was followed by a documentary screening by filmmaker Shikha Trivedi, called Safe City Dialogues, which touched on many issues of how we look at safety, security, violence and gender.

March 6th also saw two round-table conferences on ‘Redefining Responsibility: Beyond Glass Ceiling’ with the first panel consisting of Mr. Pramod Bhasin, Former CEO, Genpact; Ms. Reema Nanavati, SEWA; Ms. Mitu Samar, CRISIL; Ms. Renu Kakar, Apeejay Surendra Group and Mr Ravi Mohan Sethi, Stellar Group of Companies. The second panel included Ms. Shahnaz Hussain, Shahnaz Herbal Inc.; Ms. Chavi Rajawat, Sarpanch, Soda Village; Mr. Rajnish Dutta, Yes Bank; Mr. Manav Subodh, Intel Corporation; Geetanjali Ghate and Ms. Jasmeet Kaur Srivastava, The Third Eye. The panel was moderated by Ms. Shweta Rajpal Kohli, Economic Affairs Editor, NDTV.


 Ms. Kohli sparked of the discussion by asking the students for the meaning of “glass ceiling” in the corporate sector. With this definition, Mr. Bhasin claimed that these constraints exist while Mr. Sethi advised the girls to be realistic about their aspirations, at the same time, Ms. Chavi blamed the education system for the restrictions on women. Ms. Mitu Samar mentioned that some companies are moving towards the change. Ms. Reema from her experience of working for SEWA explained that with appropriate facility and availability, women prove to be good risk takers.

The concluding panel of the day however, was most apt to end a discussion on violence – we had Bhawari Devi (a rape survivor from Rajasthan) tell us her story, giving us a sense of how much we do have today thanks to women like her who chose to fight it out. Dr. Gopinath beautifully introduced her with the words “Inhone apni awaaz uthai, isiliye humne apni awaaz paayi”. Kavita Srivastava from Vishakha, an NGO in Rajasthan that played a vital role in the Sexual Harrasment at the Workplace law spoke next, explaining the intricacies and complexities of Bhawari Devi’s story.

Image Credit: Sahiba Chawdhary

Day one of Genderknowledge – the Academic Congress organized by Lady Shri Ram College for Women – started this morning with the welcome address by the Principal Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath, who set the stage beautifully for the day to progress. She spoke about notions of gender, violence against women, queer politics and ended with a few verses of the beautiful poem titled Silence by LSR alum Anasuya Sengupta.

Kamla Bhasin gives the keynote address.

After this, the audience was floored by Kamla Bhasin, renowned feminist and founding member of Jagori NGO, who touched upon so many issues so beautifully in so little time – she quoted a German feminist saying ‘’Women are the last colony, all others have been liberated.’’ She spoke of the male point of view which is the crux of every institutionalized structure we see today, focusing especially on religion and the idea of a masculine God. She then moved on to talk about the capitalist patriarchies we live in today, and the usefulness of the sex gender distinction in understanding these. She also explained other axis of power along which patriarchy operates – caste, class, religion – all of which could not function without patriarchy and control over women’s sexuality and reproduction. The solutions she gave to these problems were inspiring and overwhelming all the same – her spirit itself gave the entire auditorium the will to fight the system, and the song she sang and the slogans she recited (“hum abla se sable banenge saathi’’ and ‘’sun lo ab sab baat humari, ab din humara, raat humari, bus humari, train humari’’) were on everyone’s lips.


The next address was by Kirin Mehra-Kerpelman, LSR alum and the Director of the UN Information Centre for India and Bhutan, who read out the special message sent by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon on account of the upcoming Women’s Day. The General’s Secretary’s address raised issues of productivity and its inherent links with women’s empowerment.


This was followed by a performance by Dr. Maya Krishna Rao – an eminent theatre personality, teacher and performer, who performed her piece created post December 16th called The Walk. The standing ovation she got after did more justice to her performance than words could ever be capable of. Later in the day Dr. Nivedita Menon said that Dr. Rao’s performance expressed beautifully how we need not to lead, but to walk together in this fight against patriarchy.

The release of a survey done by the LSR Statistics Department took place next by Kamla Bhasin and Rebecca Reichmann Tavares. The survey, which was on gender perceptions among college students again, gave some interesting perspectives on how most of us see, live and breathe gender in our everyday lives.


The morning session then concluded with an enlightening panel discussion called ‘Yeh gender vender kya hai’ with Shivani Kapoor, LSR professor, moderating the panel of Dr. Nivedita Menon (renowned feminist and professor at JNU), Dr. Rebecca Reichmann Tavares (UN Women’s Representative for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka) and Sunita Dhar (Chairperson, Jagori). Each speaker approached the question in different ways – speaking of how urban governance and policy planning is effecting women and creating gendered spaces to problematizing notions of gender, social constructions, masculinity and femininity. (Check our liveblog for more details)

Image Credit: Sahiba Chawdhury

The afternoon session started with a panel discussion with Vrinda Grover (human rights lawyer and women’s rights advocate) and Jagmati Sanghwan (AIDWA) moderated by LSR Professor Megha Dhillon. They ‘Unpacked’ the Bill of Rights given by the Justice Verma committee and spoke of their own experiences of working with the gendered and obviously patriarchal Indian state.


The day ended with a multi media experience in the form of a musical reading of Jorasanko – a book by Aruna Chakravarty on influential women in the Tagore Household. The reading focused specifically on the lives of Jnanandini and Kadambari Debi, and ended with the tragic suicide of the latter, who was also the first person to recognize Rabindranath Tagore’s flare for poetry.

As a young girl living in an urban metropolitan, sexism couldn’t possibly be starker to me. I  see it leeching on my body when I leave the house, I see it in the eyes of the men staring at me on a bus, I can feel it making me conscious of my body every day, every second. But something about the entire Hard Kaur fiasco during Kamala Nehru College’s ‘Ullas’ showed me how sexism is so internalized in our systems, our minds, our lives – in a manner that spotting it becomes hard, even in the midst of controversy, where each detail is made to glare right into our faces.

Hard Kaur was told to leave the stage because of the swear words she used and a few obscene gestures here and there – but nobody raised any objection to how she made it a point to objectify the male performers on stage by asking them to show their chiseled midriffs to the crowd; nobody said anything about her comment on women being ‘sexy’ and men being ‘dirty’; no newspaper reported it, no righteous person in the crowd spoke about it. It was almost as if nobody really minded it – like it’s okay to insult one gender to praise another, like we need to ‘get back’ at people of one gender and blame them for all our problems – as if they are not affected by patriarchy at all. It seemed like men being ‘dirty’ was the only way women could be ‘sexy’; much like how women being timid and weak is the only way men can be assertive and powerful.


The categories of masculine and feminine and the social connotations attached with them are becoming more complex by the day. We live in a world where a woman who knows her mind is ‘loose’, a man who likes clothes, make up and kids is a ‘sissy’, anyone not associating with the gender binary is nonexistent and the sexes are always at war.

What was in fact, so offensive about Kaur’s language? How was it so offensive that it engrossed us enough to overlook the obvious sexism her statements reflected? What should really be angering us? Taking pride in being one of the best universities in the country, and even the world, how did we let this go unnoticed?

We’ve got to change this. We’ve got to get offended at sexism – every form it takes has to anger us, regardless of the gender identity it is targeting. Only then can we conceptualize the equality we have all set out to achieve – an equality that first requires us to notice its absence.

Image credit: Abhinav Arora for DU Beat

The day of love, like everything else, means different things to different people – some enjoy it all by themselves, some go the movies and dinner with their significant other, and yet some feel entirely nauseated by the public display of affection and sheer commoditization of feelings. Geez, you don’t need to talk about your love life 24/7, nor do you need expensive life sized stuffed toys screaming ‘I love you’ or things to that effect. What you need is for someone to actually be there for you when your test results aren’t so good and you’ve had a fight with your folks and the world is not really a happy place. Regardless, on the 14th of February every year, likeminded people and I spot a few of these random annoying things and attempt to reform the idea of love:

1. Coffee shops and restaurants are all ridiculously full

It’s true, Valentine’s is one day of the year where you simply cannot sit at your regular coffee shop and enjoy some food and beverage with your favourite book without looking like a loner craving for love.


2. All the malls, clothing stores and even bookshops have random hearts sketched on their doors

No, that is not going to tempt me or my partner to go in there and buy something we can’t afford to please each other. We’re good, really. Thanks for trying so hard.

3. Everything seems to have been painted red or pink

With advertising becoming this huge industry that impacts our cognitive abilities majorly, you almost feel like advertisers want you to believe that love only comes in certain shades. Cute boy on your right, but oh, he’s wearing blue? Nah. Not my Valentine.


4. But then there are also those annoying fundamentalists who can’t deal with people choosing their partners

We all know these people. Many of us know them personally, and it’s not very nice. I don’t like how love is reduced to expensive gifts, but I think what’s really worth hating is the fact that our society still sees love as a ‘western concept’ unless mediated by the institution of the family and most people don’t think young people have the right to choose their own partners.


5.  There are also creepy conversations everyone has to go through that begin with ‘So, who’s your valentine?’

GODDAMNIT, why should I even answer that?


6. Your parents become increasingly suspicious when you say you’re going out

No mom, it’s not what you think. I actually have a life.


7. You will not be able to stop yourself from overhearing the lovers on the next table

“You are the love of my life…I’ve fallen for you…Your eyes reflect the beauty of your soul” Some of these will make you laugh, so I have to admit it’s worth it sometimes.


I don’t mean to sound heartless, but shouldn’t everyday be a day to love, count your blessings and enjoy the lovely person that your partner is? And even if this one day seems appropriate, is it really worth all the media brainwashing? Why only one way to celebrate? This Valentine’s, do something different with your partner – something you’ll both enjoy and not something you’re made to believe you’ll enjoy.

Image courtesy: Tumblr and

Econvista, the National Students Symposium of the Economics department of Lady Shri Ram College for Women concluded last week on 25th January, Saturday. The Symposium was subtitled India at the Crossroads, and took place on the 24th and the 25th of January, with some fantastic guest lectures taking place as a prelude to the same. These included lectures by eminent personalities like Isher Judge Alhuwalia (Chairperson, ICRIER) Ashok Gulati (Chairperson, Commission of Agriculture Costs and Prices) and Smita Mitra (UN Women). Dr. Isher Judge Alhuwalia was also the Chief Guest of the event. The theme that the symposium followed this year was Political Economy in the wake of the coming National general election and to reflect how economics is invariably linked with politics.

The flagship events of Econvista this year were the Eco Trials, Dr. Saroj Gupta Memorial Paper Presentation, The Economist, The Policy Dilemma, Eco Journalism, Eco-Know-me and Eco Matters. The interaticve, informal events were called Thinkonomics, Economystery and The Animated Economy. The prestigious Dr. Saroj Gupta Memorial Paper Presentation was won by Sambodhi Sarkar of St. Stephens College for his paper titled “The real estate sector in India: Curbing black money flows and increasing tax revenues”. The second position was bagged by the team from IIT Kanpur and the third position went to the LSR team.

Possibly the most distinctive feature of Econvista, however, was the record response that the event received. Says Charvi Kain, the President of the Department of Economics, LSR, ‘’ This year, we have seven outstation contingents participating in Econvista, making it a truly remarkable national event.’’

On Tuesday, 28th January, the Women’s Development Cell of Lady Shri Ram College for Women organized a talk by Dr. Ashley Tellis, a renowned professor and LGBTQIA activist who spoke about how Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code affects women. An extremely controversial and contested section, the recent upholding of 377 by the Supreme Court has been challenged and attacked massively by the LGBTQIA community.

Dr. Tellis held the attention of almost 50 students of the college by handing out two questionnaires at the outset, the first about how one is constructed as a woman which entailed questions of pain, shame, menstruation and violence that being a woman in a patriarchal context is part of, and the second was one that posed questions about sexuality (that are most frequently asked to homosexual individuals) to heterosexual people. These questions ranged from when one ‘chose’ to be heterosexual to why heterosexual people try to ‘influence’ others to follow their lifestyles. These exercises brought students to understand social constructs of gender and sexuality more closely, so as to set the discussion on section 377 in context. Dr. Tellis then spoke of how even the reading down of the section in 2009 only extended rights of sexuality to homosexual men of elite classes, almost never mentioning lesbian and other categories of women. He also evoked theoretical concepts of post modern scholars like Foucalt so as to explain his points better.

The enthusiastic group asked Dr. Tellis several questions about how to address concerns of breaking the sexual binary, the way in which femininity is viewed and his own experience of being open about his sexuality in the University set up, making the talk an interactive and informative experience.

Shyamolie Singh, a second year student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women recently won an essay competition in the capital, organized so as to ‘’initiate a dialogue about South Asian Writing’’ in the new generation by the DSC prize, a highly acclaimed international prize for South Asian Literature. Singh’s entry titled ‘Changing Identities in contemporary South Asian Literature’ is said to be a beautiful piece, seconded by Bhavna Singal’s entry – a student of Gargi College. Four Delhi University colleges sent entries by literature students for the competition – Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Hindu College, Jesus and Mary College and Gargi College.

Shyamolie has been awarded a certificate of merit and an all expense paid trip to the Jaipur Literature Festival, which is where she will be honoured on the 18th of January this year. The inspiration for her piece, she believes, came from being exposed to some path breaking South Asian literature over the years, and raising questions of identity in college, outside and in the media. She says, ‘’I think I was reading Shyam Selvaduari’s The Hungry Ghosts at that time, and I ended up quoting it in the essay itself because it talks about violence, myth and sexuality – a lot of identity intersection …probably influenced the direction of my piece.’’

After making the college proud with this literary honour, Shyamolie wishes to continue her tryst with literature at the masters’ level and join the Civil Services thereafter.