5th All India Girls’ Convention of SFI was held successfully in Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh). This convention was happening in a context which is remarkably different from the previous girls convention held in Shimla in 2013. Today we have a government in centre, which is using the state power to further its destructive agenda of Hindutva. The impact can be felt in all spheres of life. When it comes to gender, RSS and hindutva by its nature are anti-women. The Hindu fundamentalist ideology, which the Sangh Parivaar and the BJP uphold, is itself detrimental to the status of women in the society. This ideology also objectifies women, and understands and defines the woman and her rights only in the context of the traditional role they play in a man’s life.
As young girls and women are reaching out to schools and colleges and new avenues of employment, they are facing backlash from the power structures of society. The tragic story of a young girl from Rajasthan, Delta Meghwal is a telling example of this. Delta was a dalit student of Jain B.Ed. College Nokha (Barmer) of Rajasthan. Dead body of the 17year student was found in water tank of the school hostel. It is not only the traditional power structures of caste and other social hierarchies, which are offering a challenge to the mobility of women. The reckless privatization of education is obstructing the mobility of women at every single step. We must remember the tragic suicide of 3 young girls in Tamil Nadu last year. All the three girls were pursuing Naturopathy course in SVS Yoga Medical College at Kallakurichi near Villupuram in Tamil Nadu and were forced to commit suicide due to excess fees and “torture”, with the direct involvement of the college chairman. It is with this understanding that we have been organizing students and taking up the issues.
However, as a scientific organization we cannot shy away from our mistakes and shortcomings. It has been our concrete experience that our correct programmatic understanding on the question of gender is not being adequately reflected in the interventions on the specific issues faced by the girl students, on the efforts required to organize the girl students and most importantly in giving adequate representation to our leading girl activists in our committees. Further, we are also witnessing the rise of new debates around gender and sexuality in the university centres in particular. As a progressive organization, we cannot remain aloof from these debates. In such a situation, this convention was organized to gear up the organization in meeting these challenges with a renewed vigour.
The inaugural session of the convention was chaired by Nilanjana Roy, All India Vice-President, SFI. Radhika Vemula, Rohith Vemula's mother was the main speaker in the public meeting. It needs to be noted that Rohith became a symbol of movement across the country against the caste discrimination in the higher educational institutions. In her speech she said “It is the first time that I am attending such a function. I am not much educated, but my advice to all the girls present here is: you study well and complete your PhDs. Knowledge is the only weapon that effectively helps one combat the crimes being committed against women. Girls need education so incidents like the murder of law student Jisha don’t recur in future”. Other speakers in the public meeting included Satarupa Chakraborty, General Secretary, JNUSU; Khadeejath Suhaila K, Central Secretariat member, SFI; Dipsita Dhar, Central Secretariat member, SFI; Tulashi, CEC member, SFI and Anuradha, CEC member, SFI.
TK Rajalakshmi, Deputy Editor of Frontline inaugurated the delegate session. He, in her inaugural speech, spoke in detail about the multiple attacks on women in a society were capitalist, casteist and patriarchal values are dominated. She also congratulated the effort SFI is taking up to defeat the regressive ideology which denies a life with dignity to half of the population. Mariam Dhawale, General Secretary of All India Democratic Womens Association also addressed the convention.
Proceedings of the Convention
The delegate session of the convention began with the election of presidium, steering committee, minutes committee and the credentials committee. The draft resolution of the convention was presented by Dipsita Dhar, on behalf of the girls’ sub-committee. The resolution outlined in detail the socio-educational status of girls in the country. It showed how even among the girls, those belonging to SC, ST, OBC and minority sections have lesser educational attainment at all levels. Further, the resolution also flagged the main areas of concern for the organization and the specific issues of the girl students, which need to be taken up.
The question of elected anti-sexual harassment committees needs to be highlighted, which has been ignored by most of the colleges and universities. Further, the resolution also underlined the specific tasks in the light of the recommendations of the ‘UGC task force on the safety of girl students in campuses’. At the same time, we should also stress that campus safety policies should not result in securitization, such as over monitoring or policing or curtailing the freedom of movement, especially for women. There are instances of ‘hostel curfew’ for girl students in campuses in the name of protecting the girls. All these can’t be tolerated and organization has to take lead in opposing and reversing such measures.
The resolution also highlighted the successful struggles by our different state committees on the specific issues of the girl students. States like Haryana with their limited capacity struggled for Girls’ free bus pass that has helped them gaining the confidence among the girl students as a credible organisation. In Assam, Gauhati University we took up the issue of setting up of new girls’ hostels in 2012 and 2 new girls hostels were constructed in 2013, accommodation started from 2014.This year the issue of GSCAH has been taken up as a state committee and positive results have come up. SFI has won 5 union body posts in girls’ colleges. Same way Uttrakhand state committee too struggled for GSCASH and reservation for girls in student union election. In campus/university where SFI have been working, we ensured the new post for Girls Representative and quota for girls too. Some state committees like Kerala and Delhi have taken a positive step by introducing the third gender column in membership campaign. The girls’ subcommittee in Kerala has been very active in Kerala and the initiative of a separate magazine ‘She’ dedicated to gender issues is noteworthy in particular.
There was a vibrant discussion on the resolution, with 41 delegates participating. The tone of the discussion was self-critical and the delegates frankly highlighted the failures and shortcomings of the sub-committee elected in Shimla convention. Further, positive suggestions and concrete measures needed to strengthen the work of the central sub-committee and similar sub-committees at various levels were also highlighted. The positive experience of Kerala can be emulated by other states based on the concrete organizational conditions. It also needs to be underlined that we can’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach throughout the country. The concrete questions and issues need to be studied and based on the organizational strength plans need to be made.
A total of 166 delegates, including 14 CEC members participated in the convention. 16 comrades among the delegation were jailed for taking part in SFI struggles at different states.
Future tasks in front of the Organization
Convention streamlined the future task in front of the organization. This exercise must involve the following features: First, intense political and ideological struggle against the patriarchal mind set among our comrades. Second, concrete study of the concrete issues faced by the girl students and accordingly arriving at correct slogans. Third, having a roadmap for increasing the representation of girls inside the organization at all levels. What do we mean when we talk about a road map? It means first an assessment of the present girl comrades, giving them organizational responsibilities and roles, making organizational efforts for their training, monitoring them and accordingly promoting them. We will be able to advance the representation of girl comrades inside our organization only when we have a definite plan of action. However, what we are stressing is the need of an emphasized focus on the girl comrades. This is especially important given the pressure exerted by the patriarchal setup on the girl students. Fourth, there is a need of sector wise, area wise and institution wise study of the situation of girl students and their issues. State committees may deploy girl cadres in some sectors and institutions for a time bound work on the concretely identified issues. Fifthly, State Committees should time bound targets for increasing the representation of girl comrades at all levels of organization, based on the concrete conditions.
Convention elected a 23-member girls’ sub-committee, which in turn elected Dipsita Dhar as convener and Madhuja Sen Roy, Khadeejath Suhaila K and Manjushree Chauhan as Co-conveners. SFI General Secretary Vikram Singh gave a concluding remark; by taking into account all the self-critical inputs and suggestions. He highlighted the need to fight the patriarchal tendencies inside the organization at all levels and extra focus on building movements on the issues which came up during the discussions. Convention ended with delegates singing the song ‘We shall overcome’, with echoing voices reverberating the hall will energy, hope and determination.