The University of Delhi (DU), despite several shortcomings, has given birth to a fair share of strong women. DU has taught and forged generations of strong women like Chhavi Rajawat, Mira Nair, and Shikha Sharma amongst others. A huge amount of credit for this goes to groups that have taken upon themselves to diffuse progressive ideas in the campus and beyond. Let us take a look at a few of these amazing associations.
Women’s Development Cells – Your Local Feminist Propaganda Machines
Women’s Development Cells (WDCs) in the University of Delhi have been created with an aim to not only try to bridge the gaps prevalent between both genders in terms of equality, but to also initiate conversation with regard to sexism, patriarchy, ignorance, and the general discrimination that is faced by women in status quo. Here is a look at the work of some of Delhi University’s very own WDCs:
Lady Shri Ram College for Women
Lady Shri Ram College (LSR) was one of the first colleges of Delhi University to start its own WDC in 1985. The WDC of LSR is also one of the most active ones, with a commanding social media presence. The team believes in initiating active conversation as it constantly promotes feminist thinking in the events organised by them. Through the last academic session, the WDC has worked with organisations like Nazariya and Eco Femme which work for the improvement of the situation of women all over India. They have organised several guest lectures, book readings, slam poetry performances, movie screenings, and an event called “In Hysterics” which invited participants to perform stand-up comedy, and merged the act of humour with feminism in Tarang-the annual cultural festival of LSR. The WDC also organised protests in their college to condemn the flinging of semen-filled balloons on students of LSR and Jesus and Mary College (JMC)
Daulat Ram College
Pragati, the Women’s Development Cell of Daulat Ram College, hosted activities that included seminars, workshops, lectures, debates, essay writing, poster making contests, field trips, film screenings, street plays, graffiti competitions, pledge walks, and filmmaking lessons. Activities organises by the cell last year included self-defense training workshops in association with the Women’s Cell of Delhi Police, collection drives in association with the NGO- Goonj, a workshop on child sexual abuse in association with Rahi Foundation, The Teach India Campaign, in association with The Times of India and British Council, I am Shakti Movement with the India Today Group, etc. The WDC of Daulat Ram College has effectively organised multiple inter-college conventional debate competitions, slam poetry events, and poster presentations on the theme- Women: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.
The WDC of Hindu College was established in the year 2006. Since then, it has been committed to raise awareness about issues like female foeticide and sexual harassment. On 8th February 2018, the WDC of Hindu College collaborated with Delhi State Legal Services Authority to bring to light the legality surrounding harassment at workplace, domestic violence, and property rights. Subah is the annual bilingual magazine of the Women’s Development Cell of Hindu College. What makes this magazine standout is the fact that it is a handwritten magazine that started in 2014. Paras Arora, President, Women’s Development Cell, Hindu College, told DU Beat, “Subah has essays, book reviews, interviews, poems, and artworks by not only the students of WDC, but also the faculty, non teaching staff, and alumni of Hindu College.”
Kirori Mal College
Parivartan, the Women’s Development Cell of Kirori Mal College (KMC), organises film shows, workshops and other events on issues such as gender stereotyping, discrimination, and violence. The WDC also provides the services of a trained counsellor and hosts bi-weekly meetings called “The Forum” on issues related to gender, sexual violence, harassment, sensitisation, patriarchy, femininity, masculinity, and so forth. Parivartan organised an open-mic session to discuss gender inequality prevalent in today’s time to celebrate the occasion of International Women’s Day on 9th March 2018.
Miranda House has an extremely active WDC. It is popularly known as a “space for exploring gender stereotypes, making connections between private lives and public worlds, and sensitising students to a feminist understanding of their lives and contexts.” The Cell organises lectures, workshops, documentary screening, and discussions on topical, pertinent issues. They organise campaigns to raise awareness about several issues concerning women. One of the most popular events hosted by the WDC of Miranda House was called “Letters to Patriarchy” on 15th February 2018, in which the audience discussed how patriarchy is a hindrance to equality. In 2016, they collaborated with Goonj (an NGO) and organised a campaign to provide women with sanitary napkins.
Sri Venkateswara College
Shakti, the WDC of Sri Venkateswara College, is a proud feminist society that refuses to comply with gender norms or the patriarchal setting of the environment. It aims to inculcate values of gender inclusivity in its students and reduce discrimination on campus. The WDC is active and organises talks and seminars to initiate an active conversation on gender based discrimination. Shakti also organised an Entrepreneurship Talk and Women’s Conclave, Shaktiodaya, where they hosted prominent feminist scholars like Kamla Bhasin and Usha Ramanthan amongst others.
Pinjra Tod – The Coven of Witches
Pinjra Tod is an autonomous feminist collective, which comprises primarily of DU students, and has been working for the freedom of women within university spaces. Their protests and campaigns have most notably revolved around the abolishment of curfew timings which are discriminatorily implemented in women’s hostels and paying guest accommodations. Since their inception in 2015, Pinjra Tod has consistently worked towards amplifying the concerns of women by curating and creating plays, nukkad nataks, poetry sessions, group exercise sessions, public meetings, and hearings.
Thanks to the creative minds at the collective, all their events are crowned with snazzy titles like – Bus Hai Teri Meri, Chal Saheli, and a long bus ride in public transport. They have been popularly accredited with inventing famous slogans like ‘Karengay Politics, Karengay Pyaar’ and ‘ABVP Why So Creepy’. One thing that distinguishes this advocacy group is its night marches. Tinged with militancy and loud sloganeering, the night marches are held in campuses and residential colonies that house large number of students to showcase dissent against discriminatory curfew timings. They gather outside hostels and sing songs and poems of feminist struggle. Often, those who participate in these marches resort to physically breaking the hostel gates, climbing over them, and even get involved in violent altercations with opposing factions.
While speaking to DU Beat about the problems that Pinjra Tod faces, an activist said, “The greatest challenge we face is to continuously build our collective strength, and to create effective support systems for women across the different locations and experiences that we come from.” She further added, “The rising cost of education including the hostel fees and paying guest accommodation rents, surveillance on campus, the indifference of the administration are everyday challenges that we face. Lastly, the rise of the right wing in the country and the changes they are introducing in the education system and social dynamics has made things much harder for all women in society desiring to live a life of freedom and dignity.”
Nazariya – The Rainbow Mafia
This Holi, the University of Delhi (DU) saw unprecedented uproar against the prevalent harassment that plagues people, women in particular, after a student of Lady Shri Ram College for Women raised the issue of being hit by what appeared to be a balloon filled with semen. In response to this, protests and awareness campaigns were organised by several groups, and at the forefront of these protests was Nazariya. The collective was subjected to trolling on social media but instead of shying away the members reclaimed insults like “Rainbow Mafia” in a clever fashion.
Nazariya, a queer-feminist group is just six months old, but its presence can be seen across DU. They have organised stress management workshops, film screenings, panel discussions, and meetings. Slowly but steadily, their influence is growing. Talking to DU Beat about what Nazariya means, Ruth Chawngthu, a DU student and cofounder at Nazariya explained, “Nazariya means perspective, and the name was chosen to represent the fluidity of one’s perspective. Our goal at Nazariya is to normalise and destigmatise the diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, which is to say that we want to change people’s perspectives. It also means we are open to other people’s perspectives as well.”
When asked about what has been the most rewarding incident while working in this alliance, she said, “It’s kind of difficult to choose just one rewarding moment, the entire “Nazariya experience” has been rewarding. All our events till date, and all our initiatives have been executed with zero funding or backing, and were made possible solely due to the hard work and cooperation of community members. This, to me is rewarding because it shows solidarity and unity within the community which makes it distinctive.”
The Delhi University Women’s Association – Strengthening Sisterhood Since The Sixties
The history of the Delhi University Women’s Association (DUWA) is quite an interesting one. DUWA was founded in 1964, at a time when, as per the website of the association, “Women did not generally move out much and were restricted to the four walls and confined to the domestic chores.” According to alumnus of the University of Delhi, there existed a “Men’s Club” where male students and staff alike would meet for recreational activities and sports, however, there existed no such meeting place for women. Women members from the University were allowed to use the venue of the Men’s Club only on Wednesday’s, i.e. once a week.
Dr. Durgabai Deshmukh, who founded DUWA, was a freedom fighter and an advocate. She envisioned an association for the female fraternity of Delhi University. The Association culminated with the aim to benefit the female members of the staff and female family members of those in the staff of Delhi University and its affiliated institutions. The members of DUWA also provided assistance to the soldiers who had fought in the Indo-Sino War of 1962 and the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965.The Association has grown significantly since 1964. In 2013, it opened the Mind and Body Centre (MBC). DUWA also houses a Souvenir Shop that started in 2014.
Today the centre provides psychological counselling as well as homeopathic and naturopathic consultation. Those visiting the facility have to pay an annual registration fee of INR 50, after which they can use the services for free. In addition to this, the centre provides free yoga classes and also hosts a day-care facility available to the children of the staff of DU. DUWA Secretary Dr. Geeta Sahare told DU Beat that the institution receives roughly about 30 consultations daily from DU employees and students. She added, “Most of our clients require counselling for psychological issues such as low self-esteem, family discords, anxiety, depression, exam-related stress, relationship problems, etc. We receive a large response particularly during the admission season, as aspirants seek guidance in their selection of college and the admission procedure.” DUWA is an extremely positive step undertaken by the University to inculcate a culture of acceptance and initiate holistic care for all clients of DUWA by tending to their emotional, physical, as well as mental health needs.
Feature Image Credits: The Ladies Finger
Bhavya Banerjee | [email protected]
Niharika Dabral | [email protected]