Guest Post by SHALINI DIXIT
I was an average student in JNU with not much political involvement. There are a large number of students in JNU who do not participate in protests and marches. Still it is said that ‘once in JNU always an activist’. It is because politics in JNU is more about applying your knowledge to society rather than losing our academic track. This comes to happen as a part of academic process that we go through at JNU. The readings that we do are about social structures, political happenings, historical events and economical arrangements. These readings are about things outside the campus. When we do these readings we take them seriously. We start questioning the existing realities, including the reading themselves. Unlike most of the other universities we are encouraged to do that.
I came to JNU as a small town girl from a religious background from eastern UP. Like most of the girls from my region, I had a baggage of being a ‘good girl’ which reflected in my conduct and thought. I underwent a little bit of culture-shock but thanks to the upbringing of a ‘good girl’ ready for uncertain future, acceptance came naturally. I was in a marriage which my parents had arranged for me and later had a child. Obviously with all the rigorous academic requirements and a child to look after, singlehandedly, I always had some personal responsibility to look after. Goes without saying that since I got a campus accommodation and a 24 hours open library, despite struggling with my personal life, I could do a piece of research which was later conferred with a national award. And yes, I got all these facilities for almost free. JNU allowed me to go out of my residence during nights so that I could study when time allowed me to. We could meet our teachers anytime, as they were on campus, available for us. All this happened mostly because of the taxpayers money that JNU enjoys.
Now coming back to myself; as any ‘good girl’ will do, I kept judging myself with the lens given to me by all significant others. Not complaining, not demanding and keeping all the significant others happy. This is not an unusual story, happens with most of ‘good girls’. For me it was not right to question my close ones’ values but it was, increasingly, not easy to find resonance with them either. They started becoming a baggage rather than my ornaments. JNU gave me a prism to view the world and its colours more clearly.
What happened? Things which were okay earlier started troubling my now. I started seeing that being a woman I was doing all the house-hold chores, looking after my child, along with a job and studies, and demanded that my partner take equal part in all. Although I was used to walking on the roads of Gorakhpur, I realised that it is not okay that men keep staring at you, while you bend your head and pass by. It taught me to stare back. The durgasapshati that I have been reciting since childhood- I could see how violent it is. I started questioning, why only I am judged by in-laws and why my parents are not judging my husband? I started seeing myself as a woman, who was loved back only till she did not question. I was a woman who had a benchmark of Sita, to prove herself each day. I started to refuse to take Sita as a benchmark of my conduct. To make it worst, I questioned Ram. I was obviously, blamed for studying at JNU and being corrupt. My ex-in-laws still regret my studying from JNU. I was actually started gaining freedom from manuvaad, at least in my mind. I unlearned as much as I learned, and started seeing myself with the new lens which saw discriminations clearly and shared the struggles of many like and unlike me. I started celebrating my dignity in JNU, and therefore, I became threat to my system.
Shalini Dixit is Assistant Professor at National Institute for Advanced Studies, Bangalore.