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.
The Fidel Castro special issue of Student Struggle, the English organ of SFI Central Executive Committee is released by the Cuban Ambassador in India, Oscar Israel Martinez Cordovez. Mayukh Biswas, the editor of Student Struggle introduced the special issue. The program was organized in the Cuban embassy in Delhi.
"Education in Cuba is completely free. Cuba wants it's younger generation to get educated and trained to take up the responsibility of carrying the legacy of great revolution. Capitalism can never be a solution for the problems of the suffering majority of the world. There must an international solidarity in the struggle against the imperialist aggression and capitalist loot" the Ambassador said. Cuban Councillor Marileydis D Morales, SFI Central Executive Committee Members Dipsita Dhar and Nitheesh Narayanan, JNUSU Vice-President Amal P P also spoke in the program. The special issue is carrying articles on Cuban revolution, education and health care in Cuba, proletarian internationalism etc.
In the era of fund cuts and fee hikes, here is a University which, due to the consistent efforts and pressure from the Left, has opted for fee cut and fund hike - the Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit in Kalady, Kerala!
The All Kerala Research Scholars' Association (the research scholars' wing of SFI - Students Federation of India in Kerala) had started an agitation in the Kalady University this week on a number of issues. The researchers were demanding, among others, that the fellowships given by the University to research scholars should be increased, that the tuition fees for course work should be reduced, and that the May 2016 UGC regulation which constitutes an attack on higher education should be rolled back.
The University's Syndicate which met today (Saturday, 21 January 2017) discussed the demands of the agitating research scholars, and fully accepted the demand for increasing the fellowships. The fellowship given to M.Phil. scholars has been increased from Rs. 2000 per month to Rs. 3000 per month. The fellowship given to Ph.D. scholars has been raised from Rs. 4000 to Rs. 10,000 (for first year and second year) and Rs. 12,000 (for the third year). This increase in Kalady University has come even as the non-JRF fellowship given to Ph.D. scholars in India's central universities today remain Rs. 8000. Also note that the UGC had tried to scrap even this fellowship in late 2015, and had backed down only after massive student anger which was reflected in the #OccupyUGC agitation.
The Kalady University's Syndicate also accepted the demand to reduce the fees for course work. The fees has been reduced from the current level of Rs. 2250 to Rs. 1500.
The Syndicate expressed the strong opinion that the May 2016 notification of the UGC is detrimental to academics. The Syndicate decided to examine the adverse impact on the fulfillment of reservation as a result of the implementation of the UGC regulation. It decided that the next Academic Council meeting shall make the requisite changes in the Ph.D. regulations to ensure that reservations are fulfilled while admissions take place.
Progressive decisions like these from the part of a University were made possible because of the powerful movement of students and research scholars led by the Left, and the strength of the Left within other sections of the University community, such as the faculty members and staff. Teachers and students have their representatives in the Syndicate, which is the Chief Executive body of the University. (Contrast the way the Kalady University Syndicate has responded to students' demands with the situation in central universities such as JNU where the Vice-Chancellors have been ruling in an utterly authoritarian fashion, trampling upon students' rights and making a mockery of all democratic fora that exist.)
Following the acceptance of the students' demands by the University today, the AKRSA extended its greetings to the
There are days which pass with shaking the consciousness of democratic hearts. Jan. 19 must be counted as one of such, at least in the history of the student movement in India. SFI, the largest student organisation in India, lost three of its activists by the regressive forces on this same day of different years of the past in three different states. Knowing these brave student activists and their supreme sacrifice will also explain the struggle and pain organised left student movement went through over the years facing brutal repression by the state and right-wing forces. In 2014 Saifuddin Mollah in Bengal, in 1983 Varalakshmi in Andhra Pradesh and in 1982 Lalchand in UP. Below, a brief sketch of these three brave student activists.
SFI leader Saifuddin Mollah was brutally murdered in Baruipur, South 24 Parganas district, West Bengal on 19th January 2014. Saifuddin, a post-graduate student, was the president of Baruipur 2 rural local committee of SFI and was returning to his home in Sitakundu Bazar from a public meeting addressed by Suryakanta Mishra, the leader of opposition in the West Bengal assembly. He was forcibly kidnapped by Trinamool Congress goons and taken to a secluded place. He was mercilessly beaten, the entire body showed signs of savage torture. The news of his kidnapping reached to his family also and his brother rushed out to search for him. He even reached to the spot but was cordoned by the TMC assassins. Saifuddin was severely injured and was craving for a drop of water. But his brother was not allowed to do so. Meanwhile, the police were informed but they reached to the spot almost after two hours. Police brought Saifuddin to hospital where he was declared ‘brought dead’.
Saifuddin Mollah was killed at a time when an all-out attack is being perpetrated against SFI in West Bengal. Elections to students’ unions are taking place in the state. In most of the colleges, TMC has not allowed any opposition organisation to contest. SFI activists were attacked, beaten mercilessly in many colleges in Kolkata, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Hooghly, Nadia, Siliguri, South Dinajpur, Maldaha. TMC goons, with active support from police, have virtually seized the colleges and universities and SFI could contest only after bloodshed wherever possible.Saifuddin Mollah was the son of a poor family; he supported his studies by teaching in a local coaching centre. He was very popular among the school students at the centre. A well-behaved and always available for social work, Saifuddin was a popular figure in the area. He was a member of CPI(M). He was only 23.
Comrade B. Varalakshmi was born in Dilavarpur Mandal in Adilabad district Andhra Pradesh. Her father was a teacher. She was a BSc first year student in the government college in Adilabad and an activist of SFI district unit. She was the convenor of the girl students' sub-committee and played a prominent role in the victory of SFI candidates in the students' union election. She was brutally murdered by anti-social elements on raising her voice against attempts to molest her. The murderer was a notorious criminal of the area. The incident took place on the mid-night of 19th January 1983, when Com Varalakshmi was on her way to Adilabad, her home town from Hyderabad where she had gone for some organisational work. The drunken goonda who was sitting next to her in the same bus tried to molest her to which she rightly reacted and raised her voice. He was then made to change his seat by the fellow passengers. The criminal got down after her at the same bus stop near her house. He took advantage of the falling night and tried to molest her. She fought valiantly and resisted his attempts and started screaming. He brutally strangled her to death on the 19th January 1983.
Comrade Lalchand was born in a landless poor family in Varnasi district in Uttar Pradesh. He was working as a member of the district committee of SFI and convener of Ashok Intermediate College Unit. By nature, he was very courageous and first to face any hardship. He sacrificed his life fighting against the inhuman policies of Congress Government. Lalchand was student of 10th class at the time of his death. On 19th January, 1982 all the central trade unions have given a call for all India general strike. This strike was supported by the organisations of peasants, youth, students and other democratic forces across the country. Thus this strike got converted into Bharat Bandh. People of Varanasi too supported and took an active part in making this Bharat Bandh a success and thus register their protest against the anti-people policies of the Congress government. Students, under the leadership of SFI too played a leading role in this struggle to make it a success. Approximately 300 students were put in the jail. On 19th January, in Babury Bazar near about one thousand youth, students, workers and farmers sat in a peaceful dharna. Suddenly police reached the place and began to open fire without any provocation on the masses who were sitting in the dharna. Firing continued for nearly three hours. But the courageous people faced this firing and assault without running away from the site. In this police firing, Com Lalchand and his brother Com Bhola sacrificed their life on 19th January 1982, while 32 people were seriously injured due to the bullets. His brother Bhola was a leader of Kisan Sabha.
Be it in 1982 or 83 or 2014, Be it in UP or Andhra or Bengal, Be it fighting Trinamool, police or anti-social elements, see the thick marks drawn by the blood of courageous young hearts. They are never defeated.