Why So Few Girls In Students’ Union Polls In Odisha?

Bhubaneswar: Amid the chaos that the male-dominated campaigns have created, girls in different colleges and universities across Odisha are barely feeling safe. However, Shovna Sethi and couple other girls of Buxi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar (BJB) college, are eager to shatter the glass ceiling in the upcoming students’ union election.

While Rama Devi University by default had girl candidates, in stark contrast, those in co-ed institutions do not often take a stand.

Even for Shovna, a candidate for the post of Vice President in BJB college, it has not been a cake walk. There is a constant struggle to prove one’s worth and instill faith among fellow students. “The ridiculous part of it all is that people in college do not believe that I can do something being a girl. At the end of the day, they think only a boy can solve their problems,” she added.

The aforementioned is one of the reasons, she believes, why fewer girls take the electoral plunge. “Harassment is common. They are subtle in nature, like calls or messages from unknown numbers. No girl in the college is spared,” said the 19-year-old.

Resonating much of the young candidate’s thoughts, activist Rutuparna Mohanty, who has also been in students politics said women are undermined. “Take any field and tell me if women have not walked past men or have not proven to be equally promising? Women these days are quite conscious about their education, career and ambitious. It’s the fear of unsafe environment that keeps them away from the politics, I believe,” she said.

In 1990, she was the first woman to have fought the election in Kendrapara’s Tulasi Women’s College. Mohanty is of the opinion that a lot has changed over the years. “Interference of political parties has turned a healthy election into something more vile and violent. In our days, there was no physical violence as such. We would write postcards and give small treats. These days, a lot of money is involved, there is liquor and other intoxicants, all of which has wiped out the real meaning of conducting elections in colleges,” she said.

Shovna’s mother, Mita Sethi, who is proud of her daughter, also mentioned how it also scares her. “What if someone does something to my daughter, threatens her, is what keeps me worried. Otherwise, I have no problem with whatever she does. I know she is capable enough,” she added.

Likewise, Nabanita Rath, a sociology professor, pointed out at the rise in crime against women. “We have had some tremendously talented politicians in Odisha, from Nandini Satpathy to Jayanti Patnaik to Ramadevi Choudhury. This also proves how women are capable of just about anything. However, the entire scenario is so polluted with political parties’ intervention in campuses that the whole fun is lost. These girls will not probably grow up participating in campus elections or furthermore in mainstream politics,” she said.

At present, there are only two women in Naveen Patnaik’s ministry.

According to Nabanita, the girls from these campuses will learn and only then can they delve deeper into politics later in life. “For the same, there has to equal respect for them and a non-violent environment,” she added.

Mohanty also added that girls must not fear but “should take care of their moral power and apply Gandhian philosophy, teaching men how violence is never a solution.”

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