The following piece seeks to understand the superimposition of dominant ideological narratives on cultural events. It does not, in any way attempt to disrespect the cultural/religious beliefs of individuals.  

Delhi University has often been described as an educational space for multiculturalism and diversity, where students from all over India intermingle and share their cultures with one another. Very often, students bring to the university campus, festivals and celebrations from different corners of the country which helps them create a sense of community far from home. It is an act of claiming a space, far from one’s homeland that initiates intercultural interaction and contributes to the richness of the campus spaces.

However, is the culturally diverse space that many of us would like the university to be, a utopian imagination? Cultural expression is often monopolised by dominant majoritarian communities that can afford to be more visible and vocal. How do we distinguish free cultural expression from ideological imposition? Furthermore, what happens when politically motivated ideologies are superimposed on cultural festivals?

On 22nd June, the Delhi Odia Students’ Association (DOSA) in collaboration with the Iskcon Student Centre organised the Jagannath Rath Yatra in the North Campus of Delhi University. It goes without saying that the Rath Yatra is a festival that is extremely close to the hearts of the devotees of Lord Jagannath. People from different socio-economic backgrounds come to join the procession, hoping to get a glimpse of the deity. People are often seen crying, overwhelmed to see the lord.

But can an event that is often hailed for its inclusive quality, retain its cultural ideals and innocence when it becomes so visibly saffronised? It is true that perhaps every cultural or religious festival is influenced by certain belief systems, but when the belief system is aligned with an ideology which translates into an aggressively asserted political agenda, it becomes potentially dangerous.

The political alignment of the procession organised in the campus was not simply reflected in symbols, but was also verbalised on certain occasions. The event began with an open and unapologetic assertion- ‘Bharat ka dharam, Sanatan dharam’, (The religion of India is Hinduism) and ended with Jai Shree Ram chants. The procession, adorned by huge saffron flags, traced the campus with hundreds of people joining in. The devotees danced and sang along; the sentimental and cultural essence of the procession could be felt. At the same time, the markers of it being a politically aligned procession were hard to ignore.

One could obviously argue that Jai Shri Ram chants in a Jagannath yatra is not arbitrary because Ram and Jagannath are essentially different avatars of Lord Vishnu. In today’s India however, Jai Shri Ram is an immensely politicized slogan – one that is rooted in majoritarian beliefs of Hindutva. To say that it is an innocent appeal to lord Ram is to disregard the persecution faced by thousands of people from minority communities, against whom the slogan has been weaponised.

Before the commencement of the yatra, an elaborate speech was given which emphasised upon values of devotion, servitude and gratitude. The cultural belief system of a Brahmanical conception of Hinduism was presented as the moral standards of India. While science, modernism and ‘western’ values received censure, the ‘Indian’ way of life was pedestalised. It must be noted that the Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri has no custom of preaching. Everybody joins the event as a devotee and no authority figure is given the centre stage. Representatives from the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) – a right wing student organisation affiliated with the Hindu nationalist RSS – were formally present in the event.

The Rath Yatra was provided immense police protection. It is entirely valid to ensure police deployment in cultural festivals to ensure orderly execution of the same. However, the sincerity with which police protection is provided to events that exude right wing sentiments is entirely absent when students get attacked by mobs on campus. When a mob of men, gate-crashed the college fest at Indraprastha College for Women, raised misogynistic slogans and Jai Shri Ram chants and harassed women, the police did little to ensure their safety. The police has acted either as passive observers or violent upholders of law in situations like these.

When a religious event is distorted and appropriated to further a political ideology, the cultural and emotional essence of the festival is hurt and disrespected. Although the devotees attending the rath yatra did not express concern regarding the nature of the yatra, the ideological undertones were felt without doubt.

The Jagannath Yatra is very close to our hearts. Devotees wish to remain connected with the lord Jagannath and seek his blessings. It is an expression of unadulterated and innocent devotion. It is not supposed to be used to further any ideological agenda” – Aditi Routray, a student at LSR


Featured image credits – Tulip for DU Beat

Read also – https://dubeat.com/2023/04/04/the-invasion-of-ipcw-a-students-account/

Tulip Banerjee

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With the culmination of Delhi University Students’ Elections (DUSU) elections, let’s look back and answer the age-old question : Is election manifesto more important than political ideology while voting? Or is it the opposite?

On 12th September, students from all over the University of Delhi (DU) gathered in their colleges to cast their votes for the annual DUSU elections. For the freshers, this was another step on their path towards being a part of a democracy. For the seniors, it was a chance to re-evaluate their choices and right the wrongs.

However, as the election season swings around, we find ourselves questioning whom to vote for. There is a rise in environmental issues related rallies, women development meetings, fee reduction movements – anything and everything that could help in gathering votes. Young men and women are seen standing outside the Vishwavidyalaya metro station distributing pamphlets expressing promises the parties make every year, and the Faculty of Arts keeps bustling with movements and speeches. It is here that we find ourselves questioning whom to vote for – do we vote for the party which we have believed in since we learned how to spell politics, or is it the party which promises to get us subsidised metro rides?

Ideologies become a part of our identity as we enter the politically active space that is DU. Students can be seen aligning themselves with the Saffron or associating with the Left in friendly conversations and college debates all over the campus. After all, political alignment helps in giving a sense of what a person believes in. Political ideologies, thus, serve as a compass that gives direction to both the candidates and the voters- not only politically, but also socially and economically. “To me, ideology matters. If a party is elected, their manifesto completion may be subjected to them, but their ideology will never change,” says Chhavi Bahmba, a student at Sri Venkateswara College.
“When I go out to vote, I look for whom I, as a person and as a part of my state, my country, my community identity, and my gender, can relate to the most. At the end of the day, every political party campaigns for the same thing but it’s their take on controversial issues that set them apart,” adds Faaria Hilaly, a first-year student from Miranda House.

In contrast, manifestos have been one of the most important bases to make a choice. While the issues and agenda of politics during the election are set much before the publishing of the manifesto, a manifesto serves as an official statement which lets us know what we might be getting, by getting them the iron throne. Similarly, the history of the developments by the party plays an equally important role in swaying the votes. While an attractive manifesto with a similar track of work could do wonders in moving the heaviest rocks, nothing is more unappealing than a poor track record. “I feel that their manifesto matters more, as does their history of work. It’s important to consider whether they work or just paint pretty pictures,” says Nighat, a student at Aryabhatta College.

“I had asked my parents to not vote for the party in power despite identifying with them, seeing how its economic measures have caused our business trouble. But they identify themselves too strongly with it,” adds an Economics student who did not wish to be named. “I think both are complementary to each other,” says Anshula Basil, a first- year student at Miranda House. Since an ideological stance can often be a privilege that arises out of socio-economic conditions, the manifesto we choose ends up becoming a better representation of what we want. Often, a manifesto is the result of an ideology pushed far. Which is why, on a closer look, the two are not mutually exclusive.

Feature Image Credits: DU Beat Archives

Satviki Sanjay

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Many a time we see people reflecting upon their college life and how it was a turning point in their lives. Wherein, a large part of the ideologies they later formed found their bed rock in the events in which they participated in, in their college period.

The life of a college student is diametrically opposite to its predecessor that is school. While school remains a sheltered cocoon where students are given basic education in various disciplines, college becomes the place where we eventually specialize in one of them. College therefore becomes a marker of the identity of a person we are yet to become. As a result of which, whatever we do in our college (apart from getting a degeree) form a significant part of shaping our identity. This is especially valid in terms of formations of ideologies, and college is the highest likely place where “patriarchal” and “extremist” and “conformist” become part of popular abuses, and being “anti establishment”, or being a “feminist” becomes your entry pass to the elite group of “jhola wala” social activist whose weekend outing is a protest march at India Gate and who are seen more frequently giving lectures rather than attending one.

The education system in India is such that the school remains that part of the education system which teaches facts and figures and the analysis of those “facts” comes only in college, where the ethos is much more liberating. While in other countries students start writing research papers from high school itself, such activities in India usually find their beginnings only in college. Subsequently, college becomes a platform for a  considerably huge change in the way we think.

Students, especially of humanities courses such as Literature, History, Political Science, Philosophy, are the ones who’re exposed to the maximum amount of theories as far as syllabus is concerned, and a questioning of existing social norms and an impending doom of being kicked out of your house because you’re too “modern” for the family norms follows suit. Students start identifying major loopholes that were earlier e\being seen through the prism of normality. For example, a girl might not want to change her surname after marriage because taking the male’s surname is inherently patriarchal in nature , while for others, changing their surnames continues to be a romantic idea. The girl might question the nature of marriages, the nature of late night curfews, the idea of “an ideal household woman” and many other things. And this goes for men who’re feminists as well.

Similarly , owing to the severely politically charged atmosphere in universities, more so in DU, students often turn anti establishments, rejecting every form of bureaucracy and become active student activists. Many leaders of today, like Madhu Kishwar were active in student politics. Most leaders adopt socialist communist ideologies, and actively start writing against the exploitative policies of the rich. Many start their own political parties, NGOs, etc. A large number of students these days also form their own start ups after graduating, though this is not owing to shifts in political ideologies.

College, hence becomes place where you’re exposed to a lot of “isms” and you turn into many “ists” and carry forward those ideologies till a later part of your life, where they give a major contribution to the kind of work you do, and not something that you leave behind in those long gone classrooms.


Happy Independence Day. Why day? Why happy? Most importantly why the Independence?

First and foremost, why must we celebrate an Independence DAY? Surely the massive struggle for Independence was not achieved in so insignificant and insulting a time as a day. It was a gut wrenchingly slow and dragging battle for which thousands of souls over far too many generations fought and died. It began from the first feelings of unrest among those suffering under the yoke of colonial oppression and continued till the last of the colonial overlords, wearied to the bone, finally took his leave of the land that had been to him successively a trading haven, a conquest, a property and a home.

Even if we do, in the impatience of contemporary life, choose to allot a mere day to acknowledge this monumental episode of our past, how can the complex emotions triggered by its memory be labeled by that grossly simplistic umbrella emotion: happy? It was a hard won independence, resulting as the result of a long drawn struggle, a world war, mutinies, marches and the silent protest of a nation wanting to exist. It inspired an utter cacophony of emotions. Feelings of relief, euphoria, thankfulness, bliss, bittersweet triumph and pure epiphany all swelled up when the realization dawned that this land was finally solidly ours. At the same time the joy was drenched in the sickening memories of partition, of violence which tore a country apart and the irreversible damage it wreaked. Will any amount of relief drown out the horror necessarily attached to the same historic incident? Surely the drowning cannot be so complete as to even leave behind an overall feeling of ‘happiness’ in its wake…

Finally, to tackle the issue of Independence: Why use such an uncompromising psychologically and socially relevant term to describe a historical victory? Our freedom from colonial rule was certainly a magnificent triumph leading to the re-assertion of our identity. However our country existed far before the British ever came seeking us. We have in turn been conquered and ruled by many invaders; most of whom got assimilated and became us while some were thrown back. Did we celebrate as Independence each little skirmish that led to an oppressive tribal chief, city chieftain or even king being ousted from power? However those fights won freedom too, highly valued by the victims in each case. Even today the struggle for independence is far from over. Whether it is a corrupt government, a negligent minister, an unfair law or even a tyrannical teacher, there will always be people trying to overpower us and deny us our rights. The fight against these oppressors can never cease as indeed our quest for finding new ways of defining and achieving freedom can never end.

Independence is a state of mind. It cannot be brought about unless every citizen truly feels free in our country. Perhaps when India can satisfactorily fulfill the needs of every person calling it home, protecting them and nurturing them, it will achieve that which is closest to ‘Independence with a capital I’- the selfsame one we so presumptuously celebrate each year.

However until that utopian ideal is achieved, let us be content with hoping that each one of us shall appreciate and acknowledge the multiple facets of one great historical achievement of our country, not an Independence but a more temporal albeit equally creditable struggle for freedom.

Here’s to a great victory!