What does it take to run for university elections as a woman in rural U.P., and win them? 86 years of history behind her, and personal grit.
A few months ago, Ekta Singh trail-blazed her way to carve a historic moment in Bundelkhand when she was elected Student Union President in Faizabad’s Saket University. It was the first time in the 86-year history of this University that a woman was elected student leader.
It was not an easy win, and her post-win journey as a 22-year-old student has been anything but easy. This is a college that has, over its many years of existence, been witness and privy to all kinds of sexual harassment, from eve-teasing and the passing of lecherous comments to intimidation and strong hints of intended violence—all the usual gender-related prejudice that’s common practice across U.P. and elsewhere.
No wonder then that campus politics has earned such an ugly reputation and image amongst the youth, the common perception being it’s an unruly call, the stuff of ruthless dissonance. As Ekta puts it, “not meant for girls”.
How did she then, one among 11,000 students, think of choosing this path? That old feminist credo – “The personal is political” – is where Ekta’s story begins as well. Having faced several of the problems herself as a girl, which included, among others, difficulties in issuing library books, she decided to try and take matters into her own hands. “Serious motivation,” is what she calls it. “Girls would be harassed in college even while getting books from the library, or while paying the fee. Since we have to stand in line to pay the fee, the boys would start acting fresh and get rowdy with us in the queue, misbehaving, pushing us around, and bullying us.”
Even the most mundane yet necessary act of drinking water at the cooler through the day was a point of stress for the girls. “It’s because when the girls bend, they have to be careful about who’s around, and if some boy is deliberately trying to brush up against up them,” Ekta says. If that piece of information had your jaw dropping, Ekta’s matter-of-fact tone puts things right back into perspective. She says, “Basic facilities like washrooms and water taps should be easily accessible to everyone. Girls should be able to do things like this without having to constantly worry about it.”
These are some of the reasons why Ekta, who says her other favourite passion is dancing, chose to stand for the post of Student Union President. She adds, “Problems like these motivated me to come forward and do something about them.” She did have her reservations and some initial hesitation—part conditioning and part fear, “Politics is not considered a good thing for girls. I still wonder sometimes why I got into this, this mess – faaltu ke chakkar mein kyun pad gayi! (Why did I join this for no good reason!) Maybe I should’ve just concentrated on studying further.”
But she usually overcomes confusion determined to “make girls feel safer and address their issues, big or small”. She is already working on the immediate issues, starting with the water cooler.
She is also trying to figure out the best kinds of sensitization programmes possible in the university.
It is the overarching, omnipresent patriarchal attitude that keeps her fighting at the end of a long, hard day. She continues to derive inspiration from her sister who ran for elections at the district panchayat level, and won! “People here have always believed that girls should not participate in elections or politics. In fact, on the day of the verdict, my opponent’s people threw stones, but I was not there. But I have won, and my family supports me. That’s what matters,” she beams at us, her face reflecting her attitude of hopes, dreams, and sheer will.