Student Elections are famous for their energetic rallies and the political debut of future national leaders. Students are exposed to the political world for the first time through these unions and can often help shape life long ideologies. It thus comes as no surprise that the extremely politically charged atmosphere of college campuses during these elections result in frequent hooliganism and rampant bribing. But recent trends show that the problems surrounding union elections and campus politics run deeper than just the usual distribution of movie tickets and free canteen food in exchange for votes. For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on the Delhi University Student Union or DUSU Elections scheduled to be held on 12th September, 2019.
Absence Of Gender Balance
In the last seven years, with the exception of Priyanka Chhawri (DUSU Vice President 2016-2017), the positions of President and Vice President have been monopolized by male candidates with female candidates being restricted to positions of General and Joint Secretary. The primary reason for this disproportionate representation is the fact that political parties only nominate an average of one, token female candidate every year. In fact, out of the 22 women’s colleges in the University of Delhi, only 5 are presently part of DUSU.
Much like the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies, there is no reservation for women in college unions. This means that critical issues of students like sexual harassment and demand for amendment of curfew timings in hostels are found missing in many party manifestos.
Much like the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies, there is no reservation for women in college unions. This means that critical issues of students like sexual harassment and demand for amendment of curfew timings in hostels are found missing in many party manifestos. One of the possible reasons for this lack of representation is the common belief that campus politics is unsafe for female students. Shehla Rashid, the student activist from Jawaharlal Nehru University has spoken out about receiving death and rape threats on various occasions.
However, instances like these should encourage us to think about why our political system is not a safe space for women rather than just accepting it as an unchanging fact. If we want greater representation of women in local, state and national government, an important step is to ensure gender balance in student unions. It is evident that parties are recognising this need as well. National Student’s Union of India (NSUI), the Congress-backed party, has nominated, Chetna Tyagi the first female candidate from the party for the post of President in 11 years. She is accompanied by left-leaning All India Students’ Association’s (AISA) Damini Kain.
AISA has recently made the news for not only their presidential candidate, but also for having a gender balanced panel with 2 female and 2 male student nominees. Aftab Alam is standing for the post of Vice President from AISA and is the only Muslim candidate for DUSU 2019. Chetna Kumari, who made history as the youngest candidate in DUSU elections, is being fielded by AISA for the post of Joint Secretary. She says, “A majority of the candidates who file nominations are upper caste rich men, in ABVP panels, there is token representation for one woman (that too upper caste), it is similar to NSUI and CYSS in this regard. Coming from an unprivileged background, I could never have thought about contesting elections in one of the biggest universities of our country, all thanks to AISA for providing me a platform where I can represent myself and my community.“
Mayank Raj Dang, who is a member of ABVP says,”Females are given great privileges here under DUSU Elections. As you can see active participation of women in elections this year as well. And there is even a lady candidate contesting for dusu. We strongly support women and women’s rights and ABVP shall always stand for women.” In a self-congratulatory tone he also mentioned, “Great women leaders of this country were a part of ABVP in their college times. So you see ABVP is doing its part since long. And will be doing in future too.”
6th September marked the one year anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India. Delhi University has found itself in the midst of a heated debate regarding Queer rights and representation in academic discource. In July, 2019 right-leaning Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), staged protests opposing the amendments in syllabus of various courses. One of the issues they focused on was the inclusion of the paper titled ‘Interrogating Queerness’ which was proposed in the new syllabus.
This runs counter to ABVP’s 2019 election manifesto where they promise “Formation of Gender Sensitisation and Complaints Committee under DUSU to instil inclusivity for the LGBTQ+ community in DU.” NSUI also speaks about reservation in hostels for Queer students, sensitization programs and queer affirmative counselors in their manifesto. However, the question of how realistic this promise of hostel reservation for LGBTQ+ students is, remains. Queer Indian youth continue to face discrimination in schools, colleges and homes. One also has to wonder if such affirmative action will require official government certificates as ‘proof of Queer identiy’ like in case of reservations for SC/ST, OBC, EWS, etc. Furthermore, majority of Queer students do not come out to their parents fearing homelessness and violence.
It should thus come as no surprise that no party has nominated an openly gay or transgender student for elections in 2019.
Caste And Tribal Representation
Delhi University, especially North Campus has housed extremely vocal opinions on caste and reservations. Numerous graffiti can be found near campus saying things like ‘Reservation Spoils’. The aforementioned protests about DU syllabus also included opposition to the ‘Literature and Caste’ paper. Akin to national level politics, DUSU parties have indulged in caste and vote bank politics. The 2018 elections saw an influx of candidates belonging to the Jat and Gujjar caste. For 2019 elections, NSUI has nominated Ankit Bharti, a Dalit student, for the post of Vice President.
Noel Benney, a member of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) says, “For The Brahmanical and hypermasculine nature of the DUSU elections to change, the core ideology of the two major organisations contesting in it needs to be challenged.” He also points out the absence of North Eastern students in the union, adding, “The problem of exclusion should be extended to the question of North Eastern students as well. This question should be a self critical one raised by the left in DU because even (they) have failed miserably in bringing representation from the North Eastern students into the electoral front.”
There is an increasing emphasis on inclusion of young politicians in Lok Sabha and state assemblies because it is believed that newer and younger politicians will bring into focus important but often sidelined issues like climate change, queer and trans rights, gender balance and reproductive rights as well as present fresh and sustainable solutions to existing problems.
Lack Of Environmental Consciousness
During election season in Delhi University, every single inch of the campus and surrounding areas can be found covered in promotional material—college notification boards, the ‘Wall of Democracy’, backs of luxury SUVs, billboards, and roads leading upto the closest metro station which are carpeted in election pamphlets.
You cannot miss the names of candidates of various big parties even if you tried. If you’re a college student, you most definitely will be handed a pamphlet at the metro station exit, another one as you walk down the road on your way to college, and yet another will be thrust in front of you at your college gate. You also can not escape the ones being distributed in lecture halls as members of various parties come to campaign. If you live in a PG in Kamla Nagar, Old Gupta Colony, Malka Ganj, etc you are also likely to have party members coming to you in the evening and giving out chocolates with promotional cards or pamphlets attached.
Littering and defacement of public property are so common in the days leading up to the elections that most people don’t even notice it. It’s important however for students to realise that we are in the midst of a climate crisis. With increasing deforestation, it’s time to hold parties accountable for their actions and to remind them that global warming and climate change are issues that must transcend political and ideological lines. The absence of eco friendly campaigns and sheer disregard for the environment is worrying. Indian students are increasingly becoming aware of the climate crisis and many are responding in a positive way. It’s equally important for student unions to recognise these issues as important and revamp their campaign strategies accordingly.
DUSU elections are one of the most important university elections in India. They have often been used to predict future trends in national politics. There is an increasing emphasis on inclusion of young politicians in Lok Sabha and state assemblies because it is believed that newer and younger politicians will bring into focus important but often sidelined issues like climate change, queer and trans rights, gender balance and reproductive rights as well as present fresh and sustainable solutions to existing problems.
While many newer and smaller organisations participating in DUSU and JNUSU polls of 2019 are fighting on issues that matter to the youth, unfortunately many bigger ones seem to simply run parallel to the national level parties that support them.
- How Important is Party, Caste and Gender in DUSU Elections ?
- NSUI Fields Woman Presidential Candidate for DU Students Union Election After 11 Years
- ABVP Manifesto 2019
Featured Image Source: Hindustan