11 leading activists of Democratic Students’ Union resigns

Citing their difference on gender question and patriarchy and the way their three year long struggle on this was dealt with, 11 leading members of DSU from Jawaharlal Nehru University resigned from the organization.

We, Anirban, Anubhav, Ashwathi, Banojyotsna, Gogol, Priya Dharshini, Reyazul, Rubina, Srirupa, Umar, Ufaque, who have been a part of Democratic Students Union (DSU), hereby, declare our resignation from the organization. We cannot possibly overstate the heaviness as also the helplessness with which we are having to state the above. While it has certainly been an excruciatingly difficult decision for all of us, but it is imperative that we mention here that we have been forced to take this decision only after exhausting all possible means over the past more than three years to defend the political principles that the organization stood for. We have been forced to resign after all attempts to preserve the democratic space to raise questions, voice opinions and criticize defects have been persistently dashed to ground and all principles of democratic centralism have been pulverized. All of these put together, despite the best of our efforts, has virtually paralyzed the organization’s activities. This has also led to rising speculations as to the reasons contributing to the same. We would certainly state the political differences that lie at the core of this decision. But before that we also ought to state in no unambiguous terms that this resignation is in no manner to be read as a resignation from our political commitment of fighting for a better, more just, egalitarian and a more democratic society. It is not a resignation from our conviction in the ideals of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. And it is certainly not a resignation from struggle.
The reason for us to take this step is the sustained denial of democratic space to voice our political differences that had emerged vis-à-vis the revolutionary movement (in this context the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF), of which DSU is a constituent body) on questions of gender relations and patriarchal oppression. In 2012 when certain contradictions emerged within the organization regarding what would be a correct approach towards democratizing gender relations and fighting patriarchy, then an extremely anti-woman, feudal-moralist and patriarchal understanding masquerading as MLM was thrust upon us. The organization not only resisted this but also put forth its criticism of the same responsibly & consistently. Until 2014 many attempts were made by those in RDF to stall, scuttle or “manage” these political-ideological debates in the organization. However, the Executive Committee of DSU collectively arrived at a critique of the revolutionary movement’s perspective on gender relations and patriarchal oppression through a strenuous process of political debates.

Resolutions were unanimously passed in the organization reflecting the same. In response, by 2015, those in responsible positions further intensified their attempts to virtually paralyze the organization to the extent of finally liquidating it. Our criticisms came from a conviction that the understanding that the movement upholds far from being consistent with the principles of MLM are in deviation from it, far from contributing to the democratization of society takes the process of democratization backwards, far from taking the class struggle forward in reality blunts it.

Rather than maturely responding to the questions that were posed by the organization, people in responsible positions have acted in the most undemocratic and authoritarian manner attempting to isolate, brand, witch-hunt, “purge”, and engaged in the worst forms of personal slander against those raising questions. Refusing to debate, unsubstantiated allegations were made that “right deviation” pervades in DSU. Attempts were made to profile the organization as one that has turned “liberal” and “degenerate”. Such display of an extremely authoritarian and undemocratic modus operandi, literally paralyzed the organization at several junctures and today it has gone to the brazen extent of liquidating the organization. Today we are left with no other choice but to raise these questions publicly, as we believe that these questions are integral to the democratization of this patriarchal and feudal society. And hence we consider it to be our historic responsibility to criticize and work towards rectifying the problematic understanding of the movement. We must also state that these are not questions that are being raised for the first time; in fact, many of these questions and criticisms has been raised by women activists over the decades. But to no avail. It is unrealistic to assume that in this limited space of a notification of resignation we would be able to outline the nuances of the critique that the organization developed over the past few years. In the coming days we shall come out with a comprehensive critique of the movement’s understanding.

The biggest problem so to speak is the deliberate attempts by the movement to suppress any serious engagement with questions pertaining to gender and patriarchy. Rather, the movement’s position smacks of a grossly a-historical and common-sensical approach, betraying complete apathy to the above questions. It is with the application of MLM in the semi-feudal semi-colonial Indian social reality that the movement could evolve correct positions vis-à-vis brahmanical feudalism or annihilation of caste; working class struggle; or for instance the nationality question. But the same rigour, application, weaving of theory and practice does not reflect on the question of gender and patriarchy. In this scenario the movement ends up relying upon the dominant common-sense, petty-bourgeois in nature in general, which in our context is largely feudal and Brahmanical. Couched as it may be with sprinkles of Marxist jargon, any serious scrutiny of the movement’s understanding immediately bares the feudal-moralist and undemocratic core of it.

Lacking historical sense and looking at gender relations from the moral prism of common sense, the movement ends up identifying the root of patriarchal oppression in the “vulgar imperialist culture” promoted by TV, cinemas, internet, novels and even feminism. Far from giving primacy to feudal relations in Indian context, on this issue, the movement ends up looking at sexual violence as a product of this imperialist culture. In all other aspects the movement rightly emphasizes upon the nexus between feudalism and imperialism to unravel the peculiarity of the semi-feudal, semi-colonial context in India. But on the issue of gender relations, we not only see a separation of the two, but also a gross over-emphasis on what it calls “vulgar” and “poisonous imperialist culture” promoting “sexual anarchy”. Here also, the analysis of imperialism is reduced only to the cultural realm. It fails to locate patriarchal oppression within the overall unequal power relations built on the bulwark of brahmanical feudalism which the intrusion of big capital has only bolstered. Simply replace “imperialist” with “western”, and one cannot miss the uncanny similarity with an extremely reactionary understanding!

This problematic theoretical understanding was also reflected in practice when those in responsible positions sought to defend members against whom DSU had taken disciplinary action after finding them guilty of sexual harassment. DSU has had the consistent history of taking action against anyone, if they are found guilty of sexual harassment and in the past expelled two leading members of the organisation after due process of enquiry. DSU was also the first organization that raised the demand of making GSCASH decisions binding upon the administration. This came from our understanding of looking at patriarchy being structurally and materially rooted and of foregrounding the question of justice in such matters. Ironically, however, the ones in positions of responsibility, along with defending those found guilty of sexual harassment have opined that instead of action there should be “political education” of those found guilty of sexual harrasment. This, of course is consistent with the movement’s understanding of patriarchy being only in the realms of consciousness determined by “vulgar imperialist culture” that is leading to “sexual anarchy”, “sexual degeneration”, “uninhibited vulgar sex culture”, “sexual weaknesses” as well as sexual violence.

While at one end of the spectrum this understanding defends those who are guilty of sexual harassment, this wrong diagnosis of the problem has another manifestation at the other extreme end. The “political education” envisaged by the movement for its rank and file as well as the general masses entails in reality a moral education against what it calls “vulgar imperialist culture” which is seen as a hindrance towards developing “a communist consciousness”. Going by regressive yardsticks, the movement takes marriage as the only bench mark for deciding on the legitimacy of any relationship. Instead of locating violence in intimate relations within the overall power relations, the movement’s perspective relies on binaries such as “marital/pre-marital”, “marriage/live-in”, “licit/illicit”. Shuffling between these binaries, the revolutionary movement differentiates live-in relationships from marital ones by the argument that the former are opportunist alliances or alliances based on comfort, while the latter are “durable” relationships based on “trust”. Under the protection of a steady and declared ‘licit’ relationship women are portrayed as ‘safe’ and on the other hand, any pre-marital consensual intimacy is immediately criminalized. Since there is no recognition of consent and choice, it is said that such pre-marital intimacies are bound “to lead to the sexual exploitation” of women. And in case, the women does not feel exploited, she is branded as being “under false consciousness” of the same imperialist culture. Time and again we have been told that consent is a “bourgeois concept” which we as Marxists cannot accept, as it is located within a larger structural/power dynamics. It is indeed true that we can’t be oblivious to the larger structural and power dynamics within which consent is located. But that is true for all consents, which the revolutionary movement would have no problem standing by. To single out, to the extent of denying and criminalizing consent in a pre-marital sexual relation comes only from a strong sense of anxiety and feudal-morality regarding women’s sexuality. While we need to problematize consent and recognize that context and circumstances have their bearing on consent; but to deny consent altogether completely comes from a feudal/moral vantage point wherein women thereby are seen as passive sexual objects. It is extremely unfortunate that the movement’s perspective stands out to be no different from the dominant feudal-moralist and patriarchal responses that are so rampant in the society. Couched in Marxist jargon, this kind of understanding only ends up promoting male-protectionism, patronization of women, moral policing and even victim blaming.

Marxism teaches us to look at society in motion. In the last 60-65 years, the structures of caste, patriarchy have been questioned by various movements – women’s movement, dalit movements, the LGBTIQ movement and of course the revolutionary movement. Within the overall oppressive and unequal context, these movements have given rise to some democratic values, aspirations and practices. Several demands that were unthinkable some decades ago have come up as a result of the space that these movements have carved out. There is an absolute denial by the movement of these developments over a period of history which is reflective of a non-Marxist approach. And thereby what we find is that various democratic demands and questions regarding sexuality, consent and agency are in one stroke painted as products of “bourgeois individualism” or as by-products of “vulgar imperialist culture”.

It is impossible to elaborate upon all the points of critique considering the paucity of space. We shall certainly provide a fuller critique shortly. It would suffice to conclude over here while stating that any theory can neither appear in vacuum nor can it claim to remain as it is for eternal future. The questions raised by this organization was only a small step in the same direction in which Marxist praxis has always moved everywhere in the world, through criticisms & counter-criticisms, divisions & re-aggregations, through dialectics, through the practice of democratic centralism. This is precisely how, for instance, the revolutionary movement’s position on caste was questioned and theoretically a better position evolved over the decades. The day we will cease this exercise and start treating our documents or even Marxism as a dogma we’ll end up killing the core of Marxism which teaches us to question. What we have experienced in the last three and a half years is a steady shrinking of this democratic space to simply voice our differences and debate. We have been witness in return is a worst display of branding, witch-hunting, and imposition of an anti-woman position by hook and lately more by crook. And it is precisely because of this complete denial of space that we are being forced to resign.

We had resisted the imposition of this perspective on the organization for the last more than three years, but today we have come to a situation where we are helpless in resisting it any more. We prefer to resign from the organization than re-concile with this anti-woman, feudal and patriarchal perspective. In this campus and outside, DSU has always believed in and practiced principled politics, in debates, in constantly expanding the boundaries of democratization whether on the question of reservation, nationality question, anti-communal struggles, anti-student moves, against fascist stifling of voices, anti-people designs of the state and so on. We had never shied away from taking uncompromising positions even on the most difficult issues, which all other forces in the campus were criminally silent on and we have called the bluff on anything that was wrong and unprincipled. It is with this same principle that we have learnt over time in this organisation, that we struggled against the imposition of this perspective and criticized it threadbare. Difficult as it certainly is for all of us, it is no longer possible to continue this struggle as part of this organization. This is a time when we needed to fight back the tightening tentacles of fascism in the most organized and resolute manner, but not at the cost of politics. In fact, with the rising fascist attack everywhere, it is furthermore imperative that we question and challenge any wrong trends within. Without this there can be no meaningful and effective fight against fascism. We hereby reiterate our decision to resign from DSU, but we will certainly remain a part of every democratic struggle whether within campus or outside standing by the people’s struggle for revolutionary social transformation breaking the shackles of brahmanical feudalism, patriarchy, imperialism and the tightening fascist strangle hold.

in Revolutionary Solidarity,
— Anirban, Anubhav, Ashwathi, Banojyotsna, Gogol, Priya Dharshini, Reyazul, Rubina, Srirupa, Umar, Ufaque