THE fifth All India Girls’ Convention of SFI was held successfully in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh from January 27-29, 2017. 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.
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. 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 privatisation of education is obstructing the mobility of women at every single step. In a context like this, we have organised our girls’ convention to fight the feudal, patriarchal and also the neo-liberal forces who are operating hand in gloves.
However, 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 organise 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 organisation, we cannot remain aloof from these debates.
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. 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, knowledge is the only weapon that effectively helps one combat the crimes being committed against women.” 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; Tulasi, CEC member, SFI and Anuradha, CEC member, SFI.
TK Rajalakshmi, deputy editor of Frontline. inaugurating the delegate session, spoke in detail about the multiple attacks on women in a society were capitalist, casteist and patriarchal values are dominated. She also congratulated the SFI for making efforts to defeat the regressive ideology which denies a life of dignity to half of the population. Mariam Dhawale, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association also addressed the convention where she narrated the stories of resistance by women in their everyday life, playing different roles from a domestic worker to an armed revolutionary.
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 organisation and the specific issues of the girl students, which need to be taken up.
The importance of having elected anti-sexual harassment committees was underscored. 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, the report noted that campus safety policies should not result in over-monitoring or policing or curtailing the freedom of movement.
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 free bus pass for girl students that has helped them gain confidence among the girl students. In Assam, Gauhati University we took up the issue of setting up of new girls’ hostels in 2012 and two new girls hostels were constructed in 2013. This year the issue of GSCASH has been taken up and positive results have come up. SFI has won five union body posts in girls’ colleges. Same way Uttrakhand state committee too struggled for GSCASH and reservation for girls in student union election. In the campuses/universities where SFI has 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 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 organisational conditions. 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 in different states.
The convention streamlined the future tasks of the organisation. This exercise must involve the following features: First, intense political and ideological struggle against the patriarchal mindset 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 organisation at all levels. 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 have time bound targets for increasing the representation of girl comrades at all levels of organisation.
The 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 the concluding remarks by taking into account all the self-critical inputs and suggestions. He highlighted the need to fight the patriarchal tendencies inside the organisation at all levels and extra focus on building movements on the issues which came up during the discussions. The convention ended with delegates singing the song ‘We shall overcome’, with echoing voices reverberating the hall with energy, hope and determination.