Why Some Bahujan, Muslim and Tribal Students are Quitting Pinjra Tod

Nine students who were members of the women collective, Pinjra Tod, have released a statement saying they are leaving the organisation because of the inadequate ways in which its leadership addresses issues of caste, class, religion, and race.

The students, who have come up the accusation belong to the tribal, Bahujan and Muslim community. They have accused Pinjra Tod of appropriating voices of the marginalised to put up a facade of inclusivity.

Pinjra Tod was started in 2015 after Jamia Milia Islamia’s administration issued a notice to female students denying them permission to stay out later than 8 pm. This was followed by letters, joint petitions and a series of protests to demand an end to gender-based, discriminatory hostel rules.

The Jamia incident sparked off a nationwide dialogue about curfews, moral policing and the higher fee for women’s hostels in universities across India – eventually resulting in Pinjra Tod.

Since then, they have organised numerous protests in different universities, managing to get curfew hours abolished in some and extended in others. In the past few years, the group has become one of the most well-known student organisations in the country.

However, the group’s internal policies and actions, especially its treatment of some tribal, Muslim and Bahujan members, has come under fire in a recent statement released by a group of former members.

The lengthy document explains that these students have chosen to leave the group for its exclusionary structure and sidelining of issues faced by members from marginalised communities.

As per the statement, the signatories are students and alumni of Lady Shri Ram (LSR) college and Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) university who have been part of the internal workings of the group for the past few years.

Livewire reached out to Pinjra Tod for their comments but they haven’t responded as yet. The copy shall be updated as and when they reply.

Exclusionary practices

One of the biggest issues the statement highlights is the exclusion members face at every level in the organisation. The students say that they are not involved in the group’s regular meetings and interactions on social media networks like Facebook and WhatsApp.

Pinjra Tod holds meetings in different colleges in Delhi to discuss matters pertaining to larger collectives. However, according to the authors, there is a persistent lack of interest or opportunity for them to speak up and be heard.

“The space that upper caste women occupied in the meetings, the hegemony of few who control the organization and the fact that in few cases that we did speak up our voices were hardly taken into account made these meetings far from inclusive,” said the statement.

The same exclusion also manifests online, on the group’s various social media accounts – which are all administered by upper caste members, resulting in one perspective taking precedence over others.

Highlighting the online exclusion, the statement said, “similar was the case with the WhatsApp group and same was the case with the Pinjra Tod Facebook page where the majority, with the exception of one Muslim woman (who is a signatory of this statement), are upper caste Hindu women administering the page.”

Moreover, the authors also point out the hypocrisy of the group which on one hand professes support for Muslim women’s rights but on the other hand, doesn’t let them run their own social media presence. “The new page ‘Jamia Women Fight’ on Facebook is also mainly operated by women from outside Jamia under the guise of being exclusively by the university students,” said the statement.

The students condemned this “token inclusivity” of the group by stating that upper caste members of the group only seek the opinion of Bahujan, tribal and Muslim women whenever there is an incident involving one of these communities.

For instance, Pinjra Tod organised a protest under the banner ‘Justice For Jisha‘ on May 2016 after the rape and murder of Jisha, a 29-year-old law student from Kerala. The upper caste members of the group took help from the members of its Dalit community only to organise this protest.

Similarly, a year ago, on March 29, 2017, Pinjra Tod approached its Bahujan members to write a long Facebook post commemorating the rape and murder of a 17-year-old Dalit woman Delta Meghwal at the Jain Adarsh teacher training institute for girls in Rajasthan who is still awaiting justice.

In the same year, when Hadiya converted to Islam on her own will and faced criticism for doing so, Pinjra Tod came out in support of her. Muslim students in the group wrote Facebook posts under the Free Hadiya campaign condemning the series of Kerala high court judgments overriding women’s consent and agency.

According to the statement, Pinjra Tod consulted the students from the marginalised community only in the cases mentioned above and not otherwise.

OBC reservation

The exclusion has also pushed aside the issues faced by Bahujan women in campus spaces that are different from that of the savarna women. In the statement, students from LSR described the second round of anti-curfew protests in the campus where students from marginalised communities demanded constitutionally mandated reservation for OBCs citing caste-based discrimination prevalent on the campus.

However, the subsequent Pinjra Tod protests in other colleges excluded the demand for reservation from their main agenda.

As per the statement, the students mentioned that during the protest, there was “no consensus on the issue of OBC reservation among the protestors” and one of the active members also expressed the “impracticability of implementing OBC reservations.”

Highlighting the core idea of what Pinjra Tod essentially stood for and the importance of intersectionality in the movement against patriarchal forces, they said “There’s no denying as to what demand is more important than the other but what is “abolition of curfew” and “Reclaiming of nights” when there are no SC/ST/OBC students in the first place?”

Religious identity

Apart from highlighting the absence of caste-based narratives in Pinjra Tod’s principles, the students from JMI also raised issues around religion and how the collective has politicised Muslim women’s identity.

They stated how one of the savarna women, who identifies as an atheist, raised an objection to Muslim women displaying their religion. Critising her statement, the students highlighted how religion for some is an “emancipatory force” and “means of survival”.

They also rejected how Pinjra Tod members projected themselves as saviours of Jamia students during the anti-curfew protests on their college campus.

“We reject your patronizing politics and false shows of solidarity that begin and end in protests and gatherings. The invitations of love and sisterhood under the banner of a universal sisterhood has done us more harm than good,”the JMI students said in the statement.

In their statement, the students made it clear that they unequivocally oppose arbitrary curfew timings for women. However, while doing so, they also condemn the absence of issues of caste and religion in Pinjra Tod’s overall demands, which is only limited to the abolition of hostel curfews and cheaper hostels.

In the wake of MeToo, they highlighted the necessity to include the voices of Bahujan, tribal and Muslim women in protests led by Pinjra Tod.

They end with the words, “Your Time is Up too.”

You can read the full statement below.

Statement Agaisnt Pinjratod by on Scribd

Featured image credit: Twitter