Thursday, 15 March 2018

When young people spoke about reclaiming democratic rights in Unversity spaces

“Ye wo saree hai jiske bhagwe rang mein jabardasti tumhne bharat maa ko lapeta hai
Issi saree mein tumhne bastar ko baand ghaseeta hai
Ye saree kisi ke baap ki jageer nahi
Ye tumhare sanskriti ke wet dreams ki tabeer nahi hai
Isse hum tumhare bematlaab sawalo aur illjamo bhare muh ko baand dete hai
Aur jab maan chaah jaise man chaha isko pehan chal dete hai”

We got an opportunity to participate in “Voice Studio: A dialogue among youth to explore ways to a democratic discourse” organized on the last day of the IAWRT 14th Asian Women’s Film Festival on 7th March 2018.  

Women’s rights activist and documentary filmmaker Vani Subramaniam began the discussion by highlighting the fact that in the recent years, how national politics has influenced the education spaces in a way that the democratic university spaces are under constant attack affecting the women students most. Yousuf Sayeed’s film ‘Campus Rising’ was screened which showed student agitations in colleges and universities in India over the past few years challenging the patriarchal and structural shackles. 

The film worked perfectly as the mind jog for the discussion ahead. Usha Shiv from Jadhavpur University talked about the issues girls are facing on daily basis, struggling with the patriarchal mindsets, and also how state misuses its powers and exerts it upon the students by holding their admissions ransom in terms of even molesting the girl students. Along with the challenges she spoke about how they are making impacts for example setting up vending machines for sanitary napkins in the campus. 

Prajakta Prabhakar Shedde from Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University Aurangabad, highlighted the issues of gender and caste in her University, struggles of SC/ST students who have been denied scholarships and their ongoing protests. She widened the horizon of the discussion by talking about how State is shutting down schools in backward areas giving the excuse that there are less number of students without thinking the “even if there is a single student, there has to be a school” Also the lack of infrastructure in terms of road connectivity how will a student go from his/her village in rainy season to the school which is miles away. She shares an interesting example where because of their efforts, the authorities started a bus service for students of a remote village to their school. Prajakta shared an incidence when she went to talk about menstrual hygiene in the remote areas, women actually said that with the cost of sanitary pad they can buy food for their family then why would they invest their money for their personal benefit? This shocked her and at the same time highlighted the deep gap in what is said, what is offered and what is available to the people belonging to various strata of society.

The struggles of students trying to fight for the democratic rights in University would have been incomplete if there was no discussion on Rohit Vemula.  Sirisha from the Centre for Women’s studies, University of Hyderabad spoke about how the university spaces have become threatening not only with the gender perspective but also in terms of caste and class. She spoke about her personal experience of becoming first women president in the University, the struggles, the cat calling and her constant fight with the administration for even small decisions precisely because she is a women representative.
The discussion headed to an interesting turn when girls from a village about 25 kms away from Rewari took over. These brave hearts forced the state government to accept their demand of upgrading the village school from class X to class XII, making it a senior secondary school. The nearest senior secondary school is about 3 kms away and the female students of classes IX and X, feared being molested on the way and many of them had to drop out because of this. These girls were accompanied with Sarpanch of the village and another lady who supported them in their fight. One of the girls said, “When we told about what used to happen to us on our way to school, our mother would say that leave school. But that’s not a solution. Education is our right and every girl should have that right. I need to study and nobody can stop me from that, so we sat on anshan”

Sarpanch Suresh Chauhan elaborated the struggle that they went through, the allegations, the pressures from all spheres, no support from villagers. But when he had of all reasons to give up hope, he motivated all the villagers to join the fight and then finally their demands were met and they got recognition from media as well.

“We were constantly reminded that you can’t do this. They used to say that when they scrapped older people, don’t think that you kids can do anything? Ye baccho ka khel nahi hai” shared the other girl with determination beaming in her eyes.

Satrupa from Jawaharlal Nehru University in her most natural flair began the conversation on nationalism and how students of JNU or practically anyone who raises questions are termed as Anti nationalist and are threatened in the most convenient way. She also highlighted how JNU is a constant target since last 3 years when Modi government came into power. She gave an entire different perspective to their ideology and then discussion contrary to what is being portrayed by famous Media houses.

Lubna from Aligarh Muslim University very quickly shared how our history and education is being corrupted and the facts are manipulated as per the change in socio political atmosphere. She with the example of recent Bollywood movie “Padmavat” talked about how media easily modulates their thought process into the historical facts and glorifies patriarchal mindsets. It was also interesting to hear her talk about gender and sexual identities on the backdrop of medieval history.

Sabika Abbas Naqvi, a gender rights activist and founder of Sar-e-Rahguzar, a movement to bring poetry onto the streets was the last speaker of the session. She strongly brought out the concerns of the women on campus and pointed out that there wasn’t much difference between the masculine politics that one faces inside and outside the campus. “Many years back, the hostel rooms were shut down at 9.30 pm and now at 10 pm, we have just got half an hour ahead in all these many years. Our struggles began with getting clean water to speaking out about rights loud and clear”. She highlighted the need of reclaiming public spaces where she also mentioned her recent work where they perform protest poetry along with bharatnatyam  in public spaces to shake people out of their comfort zones, force them to pause whatever urgent journey they’re on and listen.   

Each of her words demanded freedom from the shackles of patriarchy, caste and religion discrimination in the most fluent way which made audience instantly connect to her. She spoke about one of the poetry events in Lucknow where she was the only female poetess among many poets and the moment she started the poem of resistance their jaws dropped!

She closed the session with her poetry on “Meri saree” which was about the traditional nine-yard cloth that has been objectified, sexualized and yet remains one of the strongest symbols of female courage and identity. She embodied the struggles of women from Kashmir, to Bastar to North east to challenging the toxic masculinity inflicted on women not just in her day to day life but also what media projects. To hear "meri saree" please click on the following link-

Sabika Abbas Naqvi Performs 'Meri Saree' at Marine Drive

It was overwhelming, difficult and inspirational at the same moment to witness the power of woven words by Sabika, it actually left many of us teary eyed, with a hope and believe that though the struggle is long but we are not alone!  


  1. Speechless......beautifully written.❤😘

    1. Thank you so much for reading and appreciating the blog :-) Means a lot to me <3