If there was ever a time for Indians to discuss sex, religion, and politics in a safe space, most would argue that the time is now. With a plague of political bigotry spreading across India, it is of essence that the questioning of these notions be encouraged, with women being given an equal chance at questioning. Up until yesterday, it seemed that the Tata Institute of Social Science’s Centre for Women’s Studies alongside the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policies and Centre for Human Rights would be closing down, alongside the termination of 25 faculty members. It is to be noted that as of today, the funding has been renewed for one more year. These proceedings however pose a huge debate - why are avenues for liberal debate closing down on us?
With regards to TISS’s prior decision, the main point being cited is the complete lack of transparency in the matter - why was it not made clear to the student body that this decision was underway, showing a complete disregard for the affected faculty and their employment. The Director of TISS, S. Parasuraman, has gone on to say that “these positions were set up as a part of the 11th and 12th Five Year Plans, and the UGC has not given funds to these centres in two years.” He also announced that the contracts of the faculty members and the staff, which were specifically hired for these centres, will lapse on March 31, when the 12th and the last financial plan ends. It is most certainly to be questioned why this information was not revealed 3 days before the decision is going into action, giving almost no time for a reappeal. Apart from the faculty, Rahul Advani, president of the student council, estimates that 150 MA, MPhil and PhD students will be impacted by the decision according to this report. Again, to be noted that while funding has been granted, there has been no transparency until this hour - a matter of this stature should have been brought into the light well in time.
With this situation currently unfolding, we got in touch with Shamolie Oberoi, a Women’s Studies student, on how this course changed her life. With regards to the matter at hand, this is what she had to say. “I think what we’ve been seeing in universities like JNU,HCU and DU doesn’t bode well for the scope of liberal studies in this country. There has been a systematic shutdown of dissent in university spaces, there has been a denial of the right to disagree- and this is exactly what social science teaches us to do - it teaches us to question what we’ve been told to believe, teaches us to think critically, and it teaches us that just because certain ideologies and identities are dominant, it doesn’t mean they are unproblematic. A one year extension of funding to these centres, in my opinion, is just a minor victory, and the struggle to keep such spaces, such disciplines alive, is only just beginning.”
Here is the full text of Shamolie Oberoi’s original post on her blog, Bicyclewithoutafish:
“Two years ago, the decision to take up Women’s Studies was one I made after a fair bit of struggle and trepidation, and I’d be lying if I said it’s something I always wanted to study.
But life never quite turns out the way one would expect, and now, sitting on a flight home, having nearly completed my MA, I’m struggling to find the words to convey what the last two years have meant to me.
Sure, there have been a lot (and I mean A LOT) of the usual questions (credit for most of these goes to my several encounters on Tinder and some to ‘well-meaning’ relatives).
“So you basically study about…women?” (Wow, wonder what gave that away…)
“So what do you do after this?” (…realize that the world is a shit place for women- and pretty much anyone who isn’t an upper caste, middle class, heterosexual male- and try and do something to change that.)
“What if you never find another boyfriend?” (Well, I was worried about that initially, but for reasons which had nothing to do with my subject…)
“Aren’t you worried you’ll turn into one of those angry feminists?”
Well, immense rage is an inevitable consequence of studying gender, and I realized quickly into my MA that I had spent too much time not being angry- at the men who harassed me on the streets, at the boyfriends who treated me like shit, and the dudebros who felt entitled to comment on everything from my makeup to what time I should be home every day.
And the newfound consciousness wasn’t mine alone-I witnessed a classroom full of women (and a few men) go from soft spoken and reserved, to talking unabashedly about their bodies, sexualities and their desires, questioning the denial of their rights- to pleasure, to public spaces, to make unconstrained choices.
At the same time, I watched as all of us grappled with the uncomfortable truth that we had been implicit in the systems of oppression we were seeking to challenge. As naive first years, most of us were slapped in the face by the realization that just because something isn’t a problem for you personally, doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem at all- it was time to take the rose tinted glasses of privilege off.
Do I sometimes wish I had taken up another subject? Yes, of course. Women’s Studies isn’t easy- you’re not just taking up complex coursework (classes on Butler left me feeling like I needed to learn the English language all over again), but you’re also bracing yourself for endless asinine comments, even from some seemingly “woke” feminist friends- “it must be really easy right? Do you even need to work too hard for your grades?”
Nevertheless, I leave with no regrets.
Women’s Studies has been so much more than just an academic course- it’s given me more questions than answers, it’s left me confused and pissed off (I cannot enjoy a movie unquestioningly ever again), and most of all, it’s given me the courage to not take shit any longer.
So yes, Tinder Guy, if you’re reading this, I am an angry feminist- and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”