Rubani Sandhu


A little lost, a little more petrified, I entered Delhi with so many questions about the unknown that lay ahead of me. Delhi’s beauty and charm have always kept me grounded. As I leave this place soon, I wanted to share my ways of coping with Delhi and its vagaries.

I have never loved Delhi, I still don’t. The pollution here makes my lungs sick to the core, the gaze of certain eerie men colonizing the turn around a lonely street makes me want to vanish, the dichotomy of bungalows lining the colonies of GK and children begging on every red light, the disparity between the ignorant filthy rich ones and gross ghettoization of a certain few, the disgusting student politics of DU, the scorching sweltering summers, the smoggy and bitter winters, and the list for why Delhi is not the most lovable place for me continues. But for the last three years that I have spent here, Delhi has become my habit. A habit that has shaped me in ways I could have not imagined. A habit that has taught me things that I thought were beyond my capacity. A habit that has shown me things I otherwise would have left unseen. I don’t love Delhi, but I have a lot to thank Delhi for.

In Ghalib’s sense of reality, our capital, the heart of our country, is more than just a city. It is an emotion, a feeling, or an experience. Because it is not just a city, stepping into its realm is as overwhelming as it can be. Such is the power and influence of this place that its stories and perceptions are well embedded in one’s mind without even entering its abode. For a coming-of-age woman like me, one enters the city with light, wary steps, since the concerned directions of caution from those who love us echo louder than the cacophony of Delhi’s infamous vehicle horns. Over time, this city consumes you; no matter how long or short one stays here, it becomes a part of you, and you become a part of it. Delhi becomes synonymous with comfort; despite its notorious reputation of being unsafe, the city starts to feel like home, like a comfortable relationship that turns into your habit before you even realize it. The same dread and caution that once gripped you transitioned into a new sense of liberation. Before you even realize it, the city will have you enamored by its charm and romance.

Delhi, as a city, breathes romance and thrives on it. From the historic alleys of ancient monuments whose architectural marvels exude the romance between the architect and the art, to Ghalib’s verses on love that intuitively reverberate in one’s mind as they scale the galiyan of Purani Dilli, to the canteen of Hindu college where Rockstar’s Jordan met Heer for the first time, to the couples dispersed in the tulips-clad lawns of Lodhi Garden, to partners swaying in synchrony to the beats in a college fest, being huddled together holding hands on e-rickshaws in North Campus, to this very city being the birth place of the king of romance, we all grew up watching Shah Rukh Khan. For those not fortunate enough to find love in their college life, a sore pit is what Delhi digs in them. It did the same to me.

Fortunately, Delhi and my college life have taught me that romance isn’t bound by a singular definition or interpretation. The last three years spent here, on an all-girls campus in the south of the city, have revealed to me the myriad of ways one can show and experience love and romance, not just to others but to yourself as well. I have learned to romanticize the most mundane parts of my daily life here, and I have learned this from the best, Delhi. For me personally, at this point in time, it feels out of place to be in Delhi and to not beautify, glorify, or romanticize parts of my life. The will to get up well in time before the morning lecture, get dressed, don the quintessential DU outfit, with jhumkas, juttis, silver bangles, short kurtis, and off lately, a new edition, my clip-on nosepin. Grab a book to put in my tote; the read is usually something female-centric; it fits right considering the environment I have spent my last three years in. Post-class, if the sun is merciful, dillydallying in the lawns has been the unbeatable go-to; otherwise, coffee at Khan Market or GK M-Block for the win. On days when the wallet feels a little light, our college café’s cold coffee and the sev-puri stall behind the back gate do the deed.

Wearing sarees to college fests and events, learning to take and give compliments a little more freely, posing with reckless abandon on college lawns, taking endless photos of your female friends for them to choose one, and commenting profusely under the same photo they chose to post despite you being the one who spent hours selecting it, became the new normal after coming here. Honestly, leaving behind your home and coming to Delhi hasn’t been easy. This won’t be easy for most; not every day is going to be fun; most days it will be utterly normal, boring, and bland. But if you can ape Delhi well, romanticize stuff, and get going, you should be good to go. That’s how I enjoyed and survived the city!

Read Also: This is a Farewell, Not a Goodbye

Featured Image Credits: Nabeera Jamal for DU Beat

Rubani Sandhu

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The antidote to our pre assignment submission anxiety has been discovered in our increasing reliance on AI tools and real time chatbots. The contemporary scenario of everything being fast-paced continues to alienate people from critical creative skills, Artificial Intelligence compounds the menace at hand.

Gone are the days when young students would sit with their parents, and draft, and then redraft scripts for the speech for their morning assembly. Be it a declamation, or a debate, or an MUN, ready-made material is made available at everyone’s disposal. Research papers requiring several weeks worth of research can now be complied in a few hours altogether.  Extremism has been witnessed to the extent that birthday wishes, congratulatory messages – are all being composed, start to end, by AI tools. This lethargic approach is breeding a generation of individuals with stunted innovation, depreciating creativity and sluggish habits. The justification provided for this shift in the nature of retrieving information is the growing competition, and the need to save up time and expend it on ‘more important’ things. Conformists, in the name of academic students will be produced, destined and dedicated to lead a mundane life plagued by the race of placements and abnormally competitive exams. The pressure from these takes away any remnant will to indulge in anything remotely creative.

Heavy dependence on AI for not just academia, but absolutely anything is churning our individuals depleted of the critical ability to, bereft of perspective. Informative is directly consumed from what is vomited out by AI tools without the bare minimum efforts to relook things. People need to realize that Open AI tools are meant to make one’s work easier, not do one’s whole work.  AI bots lack the basic human intelligentsia to produce the kind of work us individuals can. Majority of the output is highly generic, and vastly derivative of the already existing information. No new thought, no new ideas, personal anecdotes comprise a part of the output generated.

One thing guaranteed is the fact that AI can never replace humans, or match the potential of human creativity. It will never kill creative roles, but has a disgustingly high propensity to severely damage the potential of creativity by making humans increasingly dependent. These tendencies also pose a grave threat to the genuine and honest appreciation of real art. With AI sites, capable of producing summaries of entire books, seminal research pieces, stellar pedagogical specimens, one fails to appreciate the artistic nuances and the rigorous research of a creative piece. There is a looming danger of a possible deterioration of the spirit of art appreciation.

Jane Austen didn’t write “Pride and Prejudice” in a hurry, Amrita Pritam didn’t draw inspiration from summaries of anthologies of Sheikh Farid, Shah Husain, Waris Shah, Hasham. Without the inner burning desire to create and introspect, Van Gogh’s melancholic “The Starry Night” would have never existed. Creativity is God’s gift to very few people, don’t let the abundance inside you deplete by giving into the lures of mundanity and convenience.

Image Credits: BYJUs

Rubani Sandhu

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Bandi Chor Diwas is a remarkable story of secularism and provides valuable insights on tolerance, love and acceptance in today’s communally volatile climate. 

After the infamous Sikh-separatist Amritpal’s month long manhunt, a succeeding panic among the Sikh diaspora in Canada of Sikhs supposedly being cornered in India, frequent incidents of arson, a celebratory parade on the death anniversary of Indira Gandhi and the recent killing of Hardeep Nijjar and the resulting India-Canada row has led to resurfacing of the Khalistan issue. Even though there is little to no support for the cause in Punjab today, this secessionist demand for a separate Sikh state, Khalistan, reverberates loudly within the Sikh diaspora. Although these voices pose no imminent danger, they definitely do result in sidelining of pertinent issues raised by Punjabis back home, thereby requiring immediate remedial actions against such forces.

An ideological shift can be employed as a corrective measure and one need not go too far, actually it would require these separatist elements to go back to what Sikhi truly means. Last week was filled with Diwali festivities, Bandi Chor Diwas, one of the most important festivals for Sikhs was among them. The story behind celebrating this day is secular in the truest and most beautiful way. Bandi Chor Diwas, Prisoner Liberation Day, marks the celebration of homecoming of the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind, when he returned from Gwalior Fort along with 52 Hindu kings.

The establishment of Akal Takht at Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple), and the growing strength of the Sikh army under Guru Hargobind instilled the fear of a potential danger from Sikhs in the mind of Nawab of Lahore, who then relayed this anxiety to Emperor Jahangir. Jahangir, who also feared that the sixth Guru might want to avenge his father, Guru Arjan’s death, demanded an immediate arrest of Guru Hargobind. He was taken to Gwalior fort, where he met several imprisoned Rajput kings. A sufi saint, Mian Mir, an admirer of the Guru, asked the emperor to release him. Upon this persuasion, Guru’s release was ordered, but the offer was refused by Guru who demanded that the Rajput kings shall also leave along with him. Jahangir, although initially reluctant, finally gave in when coaxed by Wazir Khan and agreed on releasing as many kings who could leave the fort while holding onto the Guru’s cloak. Legend has it that the Guru outwitted the Emperor by getting a special Chola with 52 panels attached to it. That day 52 Rajput kings left the Gwalior fort along with the Guru. Guru arrived at Amritsar on Diwali and people welcomed him, rejoiced his return by lighting diyas. To this day the tradition continues and Sikhs continue to celebrate Bandi Chor Diwas by lighting diyas and lamps.

On one occasion Guru was queried by Jahangir to adjudge the better religion of the two, Hinduism or Islam. In response to this,Guru quoted Kabir, “Hindhoo Thurak Dhuhoon Mehi EaekaiKehai Kabeer Pukaaree”, one lord resides within both Hindus and Muslims. All the 10 Sikh Gururs have at all times propounded secularism and protection of the oppressed from the oppressor. “Manas ki Jaat sab eke pehchanbo”, recognising the entire human race as one, was the foundational idea behind the establishment of Langar Seva by Guru Nanak. A secular state in it’s truest sense was conceived under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, 80 years after the demise of the 10th Guru. Khushwant Singh writes that the biggest contributing factor to Ranjit Singh’s success ‘was his respect for all faiths’. His court hosted ministers from all faiths and reflected the secular pattern of his religious policy. In conversation with a Muslim saint, he once said, “God wanted me to look upon all religions with one eye; that is why he took away the light from other”.

What is utterly baffling is that the Khalistani elements, pose themselves as the representatives of the entire Sikh community and advocate for a separation that any Sikh Guru would consider preposterous. Albeit the movement took birth in Punjab, today it echoes loud on the opposite side of the globe, causing damage to the image of Punjabis back home. The patriotism of the Sikh Kaum can never be questioned – be it the martyrdom of Gurus to protect persecuted faiths, the valour exhibited by Ranjit Singh against the Britishers, contribution of revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh during the independence struggle, the unparalleled bravery of Sikh regiments during wars India has fought; they have stood true to what a “Singh” symbolizes, a lion. Today, relevant issues like agrarian crisis, unemployment, drug abuse are put on the back burner when narratives of “Sikh Secessionism” dominate the mainstream media and politics. These miniscule proponents of a separate Sikh state and their hyper sensationalism by media houses are causing an irreversible damage to the integrity and welfare of Punjabis back home, thus urgently requiring them to internalize takeaways from Sikhism’s Secularism.

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Rubani Sandhu



In a hyper-communal environment with growing sentiments of ethnic chauvinism, we as a nation seriously need to introspect on what it means to be an INDIAN. The Armed forces provide a handbook on the same with valuable takeaways.

Contrary to an average civilian who is introduced to the concept of Diversity through formal schooling via pedagogues or books, I, owing to the itinerant nature of my Dad’s job in the Indian Army, have been privileged enough to witness this diversity first hand.

A great deal of my understanding of India’s diverse cultural milieu has been shaped because of my Fauji background. A sense of belongingness and a simultaneous appreciation of diverse cultures, ethnicities, religions and languages came to me through the Indian Military traditions. The entire Fauj is a profoundly diverse community, a huge old military family – bereft of divisions on the basis of caste, class, creed or religion; united by shared love for the nation and the army community.

Originally, I am from Punjab, but today, I can easily sing the Bengali prayer “Amader Bhalo Karo Hey Bhagwan”, that I learnt while dad was posted in Siliguri; I have successfully memorised the Assam Regimental song “Badlu Ram ka Badan Zameen ka Neeche hai” line by line, I know it by heart; I know some amazing Malyalam slangs that I was taught as a kid by my neighbours; and last but not the least, I can count from 1-20 in Sinhalese, something that I was taught by my Sri Lankan acquaintances who had accompanied their fathers for a course at Mhow, MP. Needless to say I have seen, heard, read, experienced, internalized and celebrated the Diversity our country has to offer ever since I was born.

Sentiments of respect and embracement towards all faiths, is demonstrated in the fact that most cantonments have a common worship place – Sarv Dharma Sthal, for people from all beliefs. We celebrate Janmashtmi, Holi, Eid, Gurupurab, Christmas – all with equal fervor and gaiety. Greeting with a casual “Ram-Ram”, Hindu soldiers praying in Gurudwaras of Sikh regiments, Sikh and Hindu soldiers paying homage during Eid festivities in a Grenadier regiment mosque seems very organic to us. Baba Harbajan’s shrine en route to Nathula pass generates an unmatched vigour in soldiers from all communities, alike.  The Rajput regiment’s war cry, “Bol Bajrang Bali Ki Jai”, the Sikh regiment’s “Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal” or the Maratha regiment’s “Har Har Mahadev”, send shivers down the enemy’s spine when proudly uttered by every soldier of the Paltan, irrespective of their religion.

We as a nation today direly need to derive inspiration from the secular ethos the armed forces have stood for. The barracks of unity and a shared love for the motherland have for long safeguarded the cantonments from all sorts of pernicious ethno-communal propaganda. After bravery and patriotism, one can definitely learn this embracement of plurality from the best.

Image Credits: Ed Times

Rubani Sandhu

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Let’s take a trip down the memory lane and explore different facets of fashion in the post-independence era in the most celebrated pedagogical campus of India.

Delhi University, the most prestigious university in the country also boasts of hosting a wildly diverse student body. The colleges of DU spread all over the national capital have for over a hundred years produced a pedigree of students which have gone on to excel in all sorts of fields. This diversity in culture, ethnicity and identities has facilitated the existence of a vibrant fashion culture in the university.

Umberella shaped sorts of Kurtas without cuts on the side. They were pretty trendy but walking and running around in those was a bit arduous. We paired these with tight pajamas. In the 60s very few ‘mod’ women wore pants. Most girls either made a simple plait or huge high buns with puff stuffed within”, an alumna of IPCW, Batch’62.

Owing to her back to back hits with Junglee, Bluff Master, Ayee Miyan ki Belan, Padosan and plenty more in the 60s, Saira Banu and her style became a cult classic for the youngsters. Her high placed classic bun with a middle partitioned hairline, dramatic winged eyeliner and tight fitted sarees were celebrated and greatly imitated by most young women back then.  Almost everyone wanted to look like her, dress like her.

Popular footwear included Canvas sneakers, T-strap sandals with tiny heels, one toe flats from Janpath or the basic slip-ons from Bata. Archives from websites of DU colleges like LSR and Miranda shows women practicing their P.T drill in tight fitted suits with thin strap slippers on.

By late 60s several new all-women’s colleges had been established, thereby bolstering the admission rate of women into Delhi University. This gave space for their style to acquire a bolder and more liberal facet.

Fashion meant a lot to us back then. With tight fitted shirts, churidar pajamas, full length wrap around skirts, pleated pants and bouffant hairdos with backcombed puffs, we all put our best foot forward when dressing up for college. We didn’t wear revealing clothes but our tops and kurtas were tight fitting”, shares an LSR alumna, batch’1967.

Dr Prabha Jain, an alumna of Lady Hardinge Medical College, MBBS Batch’72 recounts,

As far as I can recall, my college, unlike other DU colleges had certain restrictions on what we all chose to wear – especially the anatomy department. Most girls barring a few wore either sarees or kurta and salwar. Our suits were either sleeveless or tightly fitted, but were all cloaked under our Doctor’s Apron. Our go to shopping place was Karol Bagh – going to Chandni Chowk seemed too daunting because of the rush, and CP was too expensive for us back then”.

“Everything flared” was definitely the fashion tagline of the 70s. This decade had the youngsters drooling over bell bottoms and bell sleeve printed tops. Neetu Singh, Zeenat Aman and Sharmila Tagore were the biggest fashion icons of this age. Dimple Kapadia’s cropped polka dots white front tie top in Bobby resulted in the print being labeled as the ‘hallmark of 70s Fashion’. Denim was formally introduced in the same decade through Veeru (Dharmendra) and Jai’s (Amitabh Bachan) denim jeans and shirts in the blockbuster – Sholay. Nonetheless denim jeans in the common population only became a staple towards the late 80s.

We wore extremely deep cut bell bottoms with embroidered patterns at the lower helm. Styled those with cropped tops with a shrug on top, if not cropped then they would be longer. We occasionally also wore corduroy knee length shorts, not often. Pre-made dhotis with short kurtis and chiffon duppattas had gotten pretty famous. Chand Baliyan, dainty neck pieces, big buns and winged eye liners – we have done and loved them all”, says Ranjana Kohli, a Maitreyi College alumna, Batch’74.

By end 70s/early 80s, owing to it’s pan-India nature, DU had definitely developed itself into a melting pot for different cultures, identities and even fashion styles. Student from different parts of the country, from different backgrounds, ethnicities, elite boarding schools, public schools, rich and not-so rich families came together in one city. This facilitated interaction of faiths and ideologies, and was one major factor behind the fact that Delhi became “mod” (slang for modern) in terms of fashion quite sooner than other major cities.

Gautam Kalra, a 1991 DU graduate mentions,

80’s was all about loud fashion, neons, permed hair, bleached hair, plastic jewellery. Students wore a lot of unaesthetic synthetic clothing. 1991-1993, then I went to Delhi School of Economics for post-grad – which was more intellectual and saw a lot of toppers from Presidency college & Stephens. The vibe was Anti-fashion with tailor-made trousers clad nerdy under-dressed people sporting jhola bags and reading glasses. I however continued serving individuality and wore the then cool Bermuda shorts with T-shirts, fake ysL blue reading glasses, plenty of colour and denim”.

The popularity of flared pants and bell bottoms waned towards late 80s and was replaced by straight-fit or bootcut trousers. The 80s and 90s also witnessed an overwhelmingly crazy obsession with denim jeans. George Michael’s typical cross jetted pocketed loose jeans and the multi-pocketed ones were the most sought after styles in denim. 90s brought in the obsession with Salman Bhai’s shirtless look with tattered baggy jeans on in O O Jaane Jana. DU students usually wore jeans from indigenous brands like wrangler or locally sourced them from second-hand markets in Sarojini. International brands like Benetton and Levis became popular among the youth only after mid 90s, post liberalization.

We didn’t really have the kind of influencers you have today on Social Media. We derived our fashion inspiration from movie actresses and pop icons of our time. Luckily for us stereotypically skinny framed girls, Sonali Bendre popularized the ‘skinny’ body type. Madhuri was definitely a cult favorite in the 90s”, says an alumna of Hindu College, Batch’92

This obsession with Madhuri Dixit is implicit in the fact that in the early 90s, almost everyone was trying to emulate her shoulder length, wavy, voluminous, side portioned puff. The impact Madhuri’s purple lehenga with it’s backless blouse in ‘Hum Aapke hai kaun’ was ineffable to the extent that most girls insisted on wearing a similar design for their farewells and other college functions.

The movie “Aashiqui” was all the rage in early 90s. The amount of influence the movie had on everyone back then was overwhelmingly crazy. All the boys in a bid to look like Rohan Roy started maintaining a longer mane and the girls would run to the local tailor to improvise their own versions of Anu Agarwal’s famous white lace navy blue dress. Her polka dots net ribbons had a separate fan base altogether.

Jeans were in, shirts without sleeves were in, but crop tops or any shirts that showed the stomach were still a bold fashion statement. I was rather a plain Jane. So I knew little about makeup and fashion trends. But, Kajal, lipsticks and liners were always a staple for most. Reebok, Adidas sports shoes and Woodland were the flavours of the season”, says Sarika Salil, an English (Hons.) graduate from Hansraj College, Batch’97.

She continues to highlight the darker side of this flourishing period of fashion in India,

People were body-shamed openly and brazenly. Anyone who was considered ‘fat’ according to the rigid beauty standards had to stick to the ‘conservative’ fashion trends, and donned only salwar kameez. They avoided jeans and short blouses because of the persistent comments on their bodies”.

90s was also the time when Aviators gained huge love among the youngsters – especially men. This love can greatly be attributed to Tom Cruise’s look in Top Gun. Only some could afford the real OG Raybans aviators, others managed it with dupes. Women bought more of oval shaped, narrow framed sunglasses. These have made a comeback in recent years. Around this time, the baggy multi-pocketed denims had been discarded for high waist straight-fit bootcut jeans. The aesthetic became cleaner and more sophisticated.

Devika Ahluwalia, who graduated from Venkys in the summer of 98’ remarks,

‘Fashion’ in college for me was on the one hand about kohlapuri chappals and comfy kurtas to slightly cropped belly button showing cotton sleeveless tops over comfy pants. Mismatched laces on cloth trainers (not sure I could afford Converse then) along with shirts tied at the waist over a flared skirt made sense to me at the time. As did cutting off the bottom of t-shirts to make them shorter”,

she continues

Sarojini Nagar export clothes reject market was a monthly hang out for good fashion reject bargains. My hair was long and not “styled” and a pencil was used when I tied it into a bun. Silver jewellery passed/gifted to me by my sister was a part of my daily look. As was kajal and slightly thin eyebrows. Going out at night meant borrowing clothes from friends who had the access to their ‘abroad’ shopping. Tight short skirts and even tighter tops came out of the closet for those times”.

The 2Ks were an era of tube tops, low rise denims, Aishwarya’s dressy dainty micro tops, Poo’s sexy fusion of indo-western elements, the tiniest mini-skirts, natural looking blow dried hair and dangly earrings. All thanks to Juicy’s tracksuits popularized by Britney, the Kardashians and Paris Hilton; and in the Indian context Karishma’s outfits in Dil toh Pagal hai and SRKs wardrobe from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai resulted in a new found love for athleisure. Late 90s and early 2000s was also the golden period for India in International pagents. Back to back wins by Diana Hayden, Yukta Mookhey, Lara Dutta, Priyanka Chopra and Dia Mirza. There was a global recognition and acknowledgement of the Indian beauties globally. Their fashion etiquettes and aesthetics were largely emulated by young college going women. The 2000s also saw a crazy obsession with the front hair being styled into a pouf. Everyone was getting their hair cut into steps or layers.

The DU fashion trends while segueing it’s way into the early 2010s from 2Ks transitioned from bootcut to strechy skinny jeans, low rise to high waisted multiple buttoned denims, from glossy liquid lipsticks to baby lips, crop tops to T-shirts, pencil heels to wedges. Jeggings replaced jeans and was worn under kurtas or loose T-shirts. Short kurtis with harem pants, Punjabi juttis paired with silver jhumkas and bangles from lajpat or janpath was the new staple in DU colleges.

We were obsessed with using baby lips and excessive Kajal. We had luckily stopped with the puffs in 2012 but the side parting was huge. Jeggings and crop tops were fashion in 2015-16”, says Selina, an alumna of Lady Irwin College, Batch’2016.

Today’s DU fashion is an astounding amalgamation of fashion aesthetics of different decades, cultures and identities. From the effortlessly chic clean girl activewear, to Y2ks big pants small tops, big T-shirts small shorts, kurta and pajama, crop tops and pajamas, summer midi dresses, dark academia inspired deep shade pleated skirts, Sarojini ke jhumke, Lajpat’s western jewellery, from nike sneakers to ‘kohlapuri chappals’ from janpath to crocs, from H&M, Zara apparels to their dupes and rejects from Sarojini, – us DU students can style all of these effortlessly.

Fashion today is not a mere display of vanity or simply about putting on random trending pieces of clothing. Yes, we do feed on trends and contribute to the fast fashion capitalist economy in a lot of ways, but still, Fashion today has a lot more to do with self-expression, comfort and acceptance.

Fashion for me is acceptance. It is finding solace in the fact, especially in an all-girls college, that no matter what you wear, no one will judge you. There’s always going to be someone more over-dressed or under-dressed than you are. One can walk into the campus wearing a saree and no one will bother, one only appreciates”, says Dolijung Negi, a final year student from LSR.

A lot of current DU students agree that the fashion today doesn’t necessarily coerce one into opting into a particular vertical of trend, but instead, thanks to the diversity in aesthetics one doesn’t necessarily feel alienated and ends up discovering their own fashion sense and learns to celebrate it’s uniqueness.

Rubani Sandhu

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Be it getting denied the status of citizens in Athens – the cradle of Democracy, to historically being deprived of power, being subject to oppression, to getting the right to vote for the first time only in 1920, to being excluded from positions of leaderships – both in public and private sphere since times immemorial till today, women have historically been denied equal rights and opportunities.

The global share of women in parliaments has jumped from a sad 18% figure in 2008 to 26.5% as of Jan 2023 – this presents a sorry, painstakingly slow picture of progress towards gender equality. According to a UN Women report, at the current rate, gender equality in the positions of leadership and power will not be reached for another 130 years. This implies that we are headed towards another 130 years of underrepresentation of experiences of 50% population, systematic prioritization of more ‘masculine’ aspects of national interest and a simultaneous setback to social facets of welfare, political campaigns being designed by men, pandering to men, drastic under-utilization of half of the human resource, continued ignorance of women’s capacity to peacefully resolve conflicts, promote peace and flagrant exploitation of women’s human rights in political spaces.

The biggest hindrance which prevents women from escalating higher up on the political ladder is the societal conditioning which constantly affirms and reaffirms that politics is not ‘feminine’ and requires one to have ‘masculine’ attributes of courage, resilience, shrewdness, competitiveness and dominance. ‘Power’, as a term has historically, always had masculine connotations, resulting in deeming Politics, a space of power play – ‘A Man’s domain’. It is high time we discard the gender-neutral approach to politics and start viewing it from a gendered vantage point, since the former denies the distinctive ways in which policies uniquely affect women and difference in the way women experience the full force of various political phenomena such as war.

Now with regards to answering the question of why bolstering women’s participation in politics is important – the first and very basic reason stems from the state’s obligation to promote equality under the social contract theory. Thus, morally and principally states are required to commit to actualizing the goal of an egalitarian society. Underdevelopment and weak democratic institutions in a country are a direct function of the status of women in that country. Be it the middle-east countries, instability stricken Afghanistan or the Sub-Saharan nations plagued with decades long spell of underdevelopment – constant oppression of women, their near invisibility in leadership positions are common to all these countries. Embracing inclusivity, plurality, diverse experiences of masses are the hallmarks of a successful democracy.

Women offer unique perspectives owing to their vulnerabilities in a largely patriarchal world and this further helps devising better policies for women and children, social development, sustainability and durable peace. According to studies from UN Women, when women were involved in peacebuilding – it was more likely to be sustainable for upto 2 years by 20% and for upto 15 years by 35%. Sanam Naraghi Anderlini in her book Women building peace highlights women’s special agency in mitigating the “call to arms.” Women are often among the first to publicly denounce the march to war. Anderlini provides diverse examples of this type of activism, including the Women for Peace that formed in Sri Lanka in October 1984 and the anti-war group Women in Black that, in October 1991, protested against the escalation of the war in the Balkans.

Women’s political leadership has shown greater prioritization of social indicators of development such as education, health, child care, mortality rate etc. At the local level of governance, female voter turnout and female political participation proportionally increases with presence of women in leadership positions. The Role Model effect of women breaking stereotypes, shattering the glass ceiling and claiming their space in the political domain closes the aspiration gap between girls and boys with regards to building successful political careers. But, this alone is not enough to generate a spontaneous surge in the number of females in political spaces. Systematic and deliberate policy initiatives are needed to be pursued consistently to change the global political landscape.

Proper utilization of reservation quotas for women, identifying and nipping instances of proxy governance by men through female relatives holding seats, promoting political literacy among women of all ages to create both – capable political workers and intelligent female voters. Campaigns and bootcamps can be organized by political organisations, think tanks and political parties to aid re-conditioning of women and to help them realize their political potential. Us women need to realize our potential as significant vote banks as well. Organizing women in voter blocs – something that seldom happens (thanks to cross cutting identities of caste, class, religion and polarization of electorates on communal basis), incentivizes it for the political players to raise women’s issues and make it a crucial part of their agenda and election campaigning. Having conversations with women in power, in the system and those with the valuable experience of working at the grassroot really helps develop a great sense of understanding of nuances associated with politics and policy spaces. Such community interactions spark conversations on issues like historic marginalization of women, harassment in working places – politics being one of them and the need to have greater representation for women in politics.

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Rubani Sandhu

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