When I Stood For DUSU President

If ever one needs to comprehend national politics in India, I believe a good place to start is Delhi University.

Electoral politics at DU can be a reliable reflection of what happens across the nation – a linkage which gives us immense information about the model of politics that we can see at Delhi University’s Students’ Union.

So, what is the first image that comes to mind when a student is asked: “What do you think about DUSU?”

Unfortunately, the image is rarely that of a students’ union, but rather a group of hyper-masculine hooligans hellbent on establishing their political careers within the ruling party of the nation. This image also underlines how male-dominated politics in DU reflect caste divisions, the role of money and muscle power.

DU’s Students’ Union, therefore, lacks student representation.

As a corollary, All India Student’s Association (AISA) posture was anchored in changing this image – one which reflects a flawed model of politics – because this is not what campus politics should be about. Campuses are spaces to exercise our freedom of speech and expression – platforms for informed debate, dissent and discussion.

When I contested as the presidential candidate of AISA in the 2019 DUSU elections, all wanted to do was restore this space. When I started my Masters here at DU, I remember how whenever I saw hooligans on the street, I would feel a sense of fear. Today, this fear is being normalised across the university and the nation.

The brand of politics which creates fear in our minds makes a common student view politics in a solely negative way. Politics is no longer being seen as a matter of our rights. Who benefits when the masses become de-politicised?

Evidently, it’s the government which never wants to be questioned. It’s like what Voltaire once said, “To know who rules upon you, simply check who you are not allowed to criticise.”

And so, a common student at DU even fears to go and vote today because he or she could be beaten up anytime or be subjected to violence. In such an environment of fear, a student cannot even exercise his right to vote.

This brings us to a question that I faced as I graduated from a women’s college:

Except three, none of the women colleges in Delhi University are a part of DUSU.

This means that despite having universal adult franchise at the national level, women studying in a women’s college of a central university like DU are deprived of their very fundamental right to vote. This is undoubtedly regressive, with an underlying logic which is grouted in patriarchy. Administrators often say that not being a part of DUSU ensures the safety and security of women.

I, as a woman, strongly reject this flawed notion of security which works only to impose restrictions on us. We don’t need security, we need freedom from patriarchy. The right to vote and to contest elections is a fundamental right and – as a student activist – I wish for all women students to be given this right.

Unlike what convention dictates, politics for me wasn’t only about power. Being a woman candidate who had curfew timings at home, campaigning during the night was freedom for me. Contesting elections not only made me more aware about politics but helped me explore myself too. It gave me greater enthusiasm to keep the struggle going to restore democracy in academic spaces, and exercise my freedom of speech and expression.

We’ve fought to come and study at DU and now we’ll fight to change society, to defeat the fascism of the RSS and ABVP, which aims to engender a sense of fear. The politics of distorting facts by erecting statues of Savarkar will not be tolerated. Attacks on students, and professors, illegal arrests like that of Hany Babu will be condemned.

AISA aims to replace the present model of politics based on hyper-masculinity, hooliganism and casteism with a model of politics grounded in issue-based agendas – something which is desperately needed right now. The idea of a beloved university will only be restored when we reject the contemporary model of politics based on violence and terror.

Let’s struggle and get our rights represented in our union, let’s make the student union a platform for student politics and not hooligan politics. Let’s make DUSU stand on the ideals of Bhagat Singh and B.R. Ambedkar, and not demagogues.

Damini Kain is currently doing her Masters in Political Science from Hindu College, DU.

Featured image credit: Damini Kain