If you are a female student in Delhi University, putting up with skyrocketing rent at your accommodation and harassment from landlords, or living at the university hostels with the curfew clock always ticking in your head, surging fee and constant moral policing, as well as dealing with rampant sexual harassment without any proper redressal mechanism, you don’t have to worry anymore. The ABVP is here to rescue you.
All you have to do is register yourself and participate in the promotion event of Akshay Kumar’s upcoming film Padman at Delhi University. Oh sorry! I meant the women’s marathon organised by ABVP’s DU Students’ Union secretary Mahamedhaa Nagar because, apparently, that is women empowerment for ABVP.
The poster for the marathon, with a towering cutout of Akshay Kumar on the side, who also flagged off the race on Monday, urged women students to “run for women’s empowerment and tax-free wings”, and the stated aim of the exercise was to question the Goods and Services Tax imposed on sanitary napkins.
“This run is to bring on streets the solidarity among women for the cause, which will further bolster the idea of ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ and ‘Swachh Bharat’,” the poster claimed. And if that wasn’t enough reason to run, the marathon offered exciting prizes – the first being a Scooty, the second a laptop and the third prize a smartphone! Because empowerment is a contest, you know.
While the organisation of such events by DUSU office-bearers is not surprising – students’ union activities have for years been reduced to conducting of “events” by the NSUI and ABVP through corporate sponsorships, keeping them away from political agitations on campus – what is new here is the ABVP’s new-found love for women empowerment.
The RSS-affiliated outfit’s move for empowerment is at odds with its imaginations of a Hindu Rashtra in which a woman’s role is reduced to a biological reproducer of its members (“sons”); limited to mothers/wives/sisters in need of protection; contained into cultural signifiers who are the markers and reproducers of cultural boundaries/differences; and idolised into figures whose bravery is realised through self-sacrifice/erasure.
In this imagination of the nation, women carry its burden every day, manifesting in diverse forms of regulations and restrictions that bind and cage her, in the policing of her autonomy and freedom that she has to negotiate and resist, and even internalise every day.
This ideology has been manifested by the ABVP time and again by its violent disruption and suppression of any democratic assertion of voices of women students on campus, be it the interruption of seminars, physical attacks on students, activists and teachers, or harassment of women asserting themselves politically.
Last year’s DUSU president Satender Awana from ABVP publicly threatened and abused the Dean of Law Faulty, Ved Kumari. ABVP activists have also periodically tried to disrupt programmes organised by Pinjratod (a women students’ collective) and threatened its activists, calling them women with “loose morals”.
Then why is the ABVP suddenly interested in women’s empowerment?
Let’s be clear that it’s not because of any change of heart or ideology. It is because they feel threatened by women students’ political assertion in campus politics in recent years. Whether it is an agitation for specific demands such as better and cheaper accommodation and more hostels, or for a redressal mechanism against sexual harassment, or against violence in the university, women students have been at the forefront. It is because of this assertion that the ABVP wants to appear to be taking a “progressive” stand when it comes to women’s issues. But while using the popular language of women’s empowerment, it cannot really help using patriarchal and protectionist logic too.
The ABVP has been trying to cash in on the mood by putting forward women candidates, but anyone even a little aware of DUSU politics knows that women candidates are just supposed to be “pretty faces” meant for gathering votes and are not seen as people with a mind of their own and who can become political voices.
ABVP’s manifesto for the DUSU elections promises to make women feel secure inside the campus with the help of self-defence camps, police booths, female police personnel, a mobile app and regular patrolling. It categorically states that “to make girl students more self-confident we would organise self-defence training in various colleges and on university campus. We would work for the provision of a police booth near every hostel/college and make sure there is female police staff present at every booth”.
Extending the same logic of protectionism and putting the responsibility of safety on women themselves, DUSU secretary Nagar earlier this year started a campaign for women’s safety and empowerment by distributing Namo Power pepper spray (named after Prime Minister Narendra Modi), during her election campaign.
In response to the questioning of curfew timings for women in hostels, ABVP’s presidential candidate said that though the curfew time may be relaxed, there should be a “seema” (limit) as there are constraints and a “lot of hassle” in case something happens
This represents the core of the ABVP’s agenda and politics of women’s empowerment. Couched in the language of empowerment and safety, it can only imagine women inside lakshman rekhas, not creating too much hassle for the authorities of patriarchal institutions, be it the university, family or the nation.