One look at the number of female candidates in the ‘ongoing’ electoral process, and you see heavily tilted pans in the balance of gender. Ramani Baddam (SFI) and Shravanti (ASA-NSUI-DSU alliance) who contested for the posts of Vice President and Cultural Secretary respectively represent the whole female population of UoH which roughly forms 30-35% of the student community. Then, of course, there are the two contenders for the post of Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CASH) committee representative – Anuradha Banerji (SFI) and Ranjani (Independent).
Superficially, one may say that girls are not comfortable being on the public platform where all eyes will be on them. “At the end of the day, it takes some amount of guts and grit to represent the student community,” says Pridhvi, a 1st year I MSc Physics student. But is it just that? And do all women lack it?
The answer is a definite no. Plain lethargy is one real reason. Although girls face multiple issues of subtle gender inequality on campus, no one wants to come out of her shell and confront them. Umpteen numbers of questions are there to ask. How many girls feel safe to walk through the campus at odd times? How many girls know about the various committees present on campus to take care of issues including sexual harassment? Dr. Aparna Rayaprol, an active gender activist and the Director of the Study India Program, puts it aptly. “We do not take responsibility and take too much for granted.”
An important point to note here is that the presence of girls in the Students Union does not guarantee justice to girls on the campus. A motivated male leader can do as much help as a motivated female leader and vice versa. It is a known fact that the Rajiv Gandhi regime was more gender sensitive than his mother’s regime. However, nobody doubts the fact that representation is important. Like Soumya Subramaniam, another 1st year student, confesses, let us thank God that girls find it important to contest for CASH Committee membership, at least.
Another important reason is that there is absolutely no encouragement from the politically inclined student organizations to make the fairer sex participate in the electoral process. Both the right wing and the left wing parties talk about inclusiveness; but hardly anyone practices it. If at all they choose to have one female member in the panel, is it for legitimate reasons? It is better not to have a girl in the Students’ Union than to have her just as an embellishment.
There was a time when there was no specific redressal system for cases of sexual harassment at UoH. It took the effort of many enterprising women here to establish the CASH committee as we know it today. But at that time, the campus population also was far more sensitive than now. In 1995, there was a case of rape on campus and the entire population came together – students and faculty alike – to ensure that justice was gained.
However, today, in spite of CASH committee being in power, girls choose to cover up their horrifying experiences due to sheer fear of ‘others getting to know.’ This fear does not bloom from nowhere. We are all aware how we are increasingly becoming desensitized by each passing day.
Dr. Aparna remembers that it was in the 90s that a call for reservation for girls was first heard on campus. The discussions graduated into claims of ‘quotas within quotas’ with the intersection of caste and gender, and as one may guess correctly, they died out.
Given the fact that our campus is much hyped to be an ‘intellectually enlightened’ one, we need to ask two important questions. First, do the UoH girls need to be allotted a quota to come out and be seen? Second, is sexual harassment the only legitimate female issue that we need to deal with? If girls do not think beyond the typecast roles in the Students’ Union soon, certain male chauvinists will get used to the situation. They will start asking, more frequently, ridiculous questions like the one Ramani Baddam faced on the first day of counting (August 7th).
“Why do you women bother to come into politics?”