Written by Anushka Bidani
Edited by Tara and Saumya
About the Series
The undergraduate student body will be electing its Sixth House of Representatives in the month of February. The previous years of Ashokan politics have presented both the candidates and the voters with multiple challenges, encouraging the community to actively participate and resolve key issues concerning students’ and workers’ welfare. However, determining the ideologies of a party or a candidate simply based on manifestos and debates is quite unfeasible. We believe that it is important to consider the policies and vision that a party holds. These range from better representation, gendered harassment, discrimination, workers’ rights, and nationwide social and political issues that directly or indirectly affect Ashoka and its people. Therefore, it is necessary to gather a better insight into the ideals and politics of different parties and candidates before the election starts. The Collective continues the #WeVoteWise election series, and presents answers provided by different parties on these issues to the student body.
Please note that the questions and answers below are reported verbatim. These will ultimately be followed by a brief feminist analysis of their responses.
The second party in the series is Moksh, which emphasises upon its “core beliefs of reinvention and inclusivity”. Last year, it secured five seats in the House of Representatives.
What is your party’s current gender ratio? What was the gender ratio at the end of December 2019?
Ans – To the best of our knowledge, the current gender ratio of our party stands at 1.5 (Men:Women). At the end of December 2019, the gender ratio stood at 1.56.
Would you mind sharing the internal ground rules your party follows if any?
Ans – All members of the party are required to sign the Honour Code, which is linked here.
What has your party done to bring more diversity in terms of gender, caste, and class?
Ans – The goal with the new induction process was rooted in our belief that as equal stakeholders of this campus, it is important to have as wide a variety of voices as possible at the table; this principle is defeated by keeping barriers to entry such as interviews, that might not be the manner of expression of choice for all.
Can you share more details about your induction process? Do you consider applicants’ social and political opinions? How do you ensure enough diversity and representation in your party?
Ans – This year, we followed an Open Inductions policy. Members of the student body were invited to sign up to be part of the party, after which they had to meet basic criteria (attendance, contribution to debate and discussion) in order to transition them into the party. All newly inducted members have been placed on probation until election cycle.
We believe that this reformed induction process ensures that students are not able to manipulate their social and political opinions in order to represent themselves in a certain manner that they deem desirable.
It would not be ethical to approach people to join the party simply on the basis of any part of their identity at Ashoka. Work and commitment are the primary qualities we seek in members.
Do you have any procedure to ensure that an individual does not have recurring problematic behaviour before accepting them in the party? For example, making women uncomfortable, being casteist, transphobic, or making disrespectful comments (The NOCs will only clarify if someone has a case against them and that is not sufficient).
Ans – Our probation period serves specifically to understand new members and their behavior; it is put in place especially during election season to give members, and the student body, as clear an idea as possible of the representatives of Moksh.
What is your party’s stance on the following:
Ans – a. CAA, NRC, NPR : The party stands unanimously against these acts by the government; Moksh members represented this same idea by signing the statement of solidarity that was drafted by the HoR regarding the same, and providing legislative support to facilitate the subsidisation of transport to the protests and back.
b. The Trans Act 2019 : While we are still in the process of understanding the complexities of the Act, we believe that the Act is problematic on multiple fronts. Mandating the formal, certified recognition of any aspect of someone’s identity is restrictive, along with ignoring the need for an adequately equipped health care system for persons who choose to identify as such. As a party, we stand unanimously against the Act, and in solidarity with all members of the Ashoka community who have been adversely affected by the negative atmosphere promoted by the government’s actions.
c. The abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir and the actions of the government with respect to the region? : As a party, we unanimously stand against the government’s actions with regards to the region. Arguably more importantly, we stand in complete solidarity with the members of the Ashoka community who have been adversely affected by the negative atmosphere that was promoted by the government’s actions.
What is your party’s policy on allegations of sexual harassment against a member?
Ans – You can find the party policy here.
Further, the party also mandates that every member sign the Honour Code, which is linked here.
Has your party taken any active efforts to engage with the workers on campus and work for their rights?
Ans – While our members have taken up specific cases throughout the year on an individual basis, we have integrated the need to address the issue of workers’ welfare on our manifesto as well. An example would be an instance where a Didi from SH4 approached a member of the party about the behaviour meted out by the wardens. The member then proceeded to bring this issue to the notice of the Community Wellbeing Ministry, and followed up accordingly.
As per our information, currently, all staff members do not have their contracts although the administration claims that they do. Plus there is a lot of verbal and other forms of harassment that they aren’t able to report in spite of the Workers Welfare Committee and other efforts. How do you plan to address this?
Ans – Within the house, Moksh members have been pushing for a clearer chain of command, especially with the disbandment of the GRC, and we intend to keep up these efforts through the next year as well. As of now, the administration claims that a seat in the Workers’ Welfare Committee comes with fiduciary responsibilities that the admin is not ready to relinquish to us; in order to address this problem, we intend to establish a group of volunteers that would undergo sensitisation programs, and then be equipped as best as possible to reach out to staff members in order to understand the problems they face, and bring them to the attention of the House, and the WWC.
What is your party’s stand on speakers with a history of hateful/violent behaviour or opinions being invited to the university?
Ans – While we respect the right of students to invite speakers on campus, we respect and encourage the right of students to dissent, as well as make their concerns about certain speakers known, in a host of manners.
Can you throw some light on your party’s policy on expelling members? Does it extend to cases of discriminatory/hateful remarks or behaviour?
Ans – We maintain that when a member of Moksh makes a remark publicly, they will be held accountable to the audience that has heard it; the onus to maintain this accountability lies with every member of the party. An important goal is also to create an environment where if and when a case like this comes up, everyone feels comfortable addressing such issues with the party. Finally, as aforementioned, our probation period serves to identify exactly such instances, which can then be addressed adequately.
How important do you think it is to hold gender and caste sensitisation sessions on campus? If you think it is important, what are some of the key points you would like to see highlighted in these sessions?
Ans – We believe that it is extremely important to hold gender and caste sensitisation sessions on campus, and they must be extended to everyone that is part of the Ashoka community. Some key points to include these sessions would be the importance respecting all identities and creating a comfortable space for every single member of the community, as well as ensuring the cognizance of instances of systemic discrimination and ways to combat the same.
What is your party’s stance on introducing caste-based reservations at Ashoka? Do you see yourselves actively pushing for a reservations policy?
Ans – Keeping with the spirit that Moksh has always maintained, as members of the Ashoka community, while we do our best to recognise the prevalent systemic discrimination to the best of our ability, we acknowledge that this understanding will also be limited and we seek to interact with fellow students as much as possible in order to better said understanding. Further, we are in the process of deciding which system would address this problem in the unique context of Ashoka as best possible, one option of which is caste-based reservations at Ashoka.
The political party Moksh consistently reiterates upon its core values of inclusivity and diversity. However, their gender ratio of 1.5 (Men:Women) is skewed favourably towards men. The honour code signed by all the members of the party is an important measure, but restricted to institutional means of accountability. The new induction process wherein “instead of a thorough screening process judging whether applicants conform to a certain ideal, [they’re] having a signup system” (20.11.19) is an interesting idea, which is bound to appeal greatly to the less-outspoken section of the student body. However, it does not guarantee more diversity in terms of gender, caste and class, and thereby seems like a passive approach to the issue of representation. The reformed induction process also does not appear to do a well enough job vis-a-vis consideration of social and political opinions and representation, although the intention is appreciable. Without a lack of thorough assessment of the person’s character and fundamental beliefs — which are successfully accomplished through a comprehensive induction process — it is highly possible that members with hurtful opinions and perceptions would make the cut even past the probation period and end up on the candidates’ list. A simple way to do this without mandating interviews is having a detailed application form, but it is also worth thinking through more flexible ways of application that retain important questions of core values and beliefs. They assert that only things that matter to them in potential members are a strong work ethic and consistent participation, which is a problematic approach in any field, but especially politics where every single decision has a direct impact on people. Plus, while approaching people based on certain aspects of their identity would certainly be unethical, that does not excuse the party from adopting a more active approach towards diversity and broader representation (such as consciously making an effort to create a welcoming, inclusive space), ideals which it mentions as its core value system.
The party unanimously stands against the CAA, the Trans Act, and the actions of the government in Kashmir. However, the party failed to state its stance regarding the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir. The party’s policy on allegations of sexual harassment against a member is just. The members of the party consistently engage with the workers to ensure their well-being. However, these efforts are more individualistic in nature, rather than a collective effort by the party. Moksh’s preliminary manifesto (dated 27 January 2020) does state a provision of cleaning gloves to the housekeeping staff. It is yet to be seen if the party will include any other provisions for the workers in their final manifesto. The intention of the party to establish a group of volunteers to better understand the logistical problems faced by the workers seems like a sound idea. However, the issue of harassment (verbal and other forms) faced by the staff members still stands, and hasn’t been addressed by the party, despite running for two years and having a good representation in the last house.
The party takes an ambiguous stand on the issue of speakers with a history of hateful/violent behaviour or opinions being invited to the university. While it is good to know that they respect and encourage the right of students to dissent, it still does not clarify whether they agree (or disagree) if speakers with such a history should be offered invitations in the first place. Additionally, the party’s policy on expelling members is unclear. While their goal to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable addressing such issues is commendable, it does not clarify how far their onus of accountability and its repercussions extend. Their belief that it is extremely important to hold gender and caste sensitisation sessions on campus is an informed perspective, which is corroborated by their emphasis upon creating a comfortable space for all members and highlighting instances of systematic discrimination. The party reiterates upon their recognition of systematic discrimination at Ashoka, and states that they are in the process of deciding which system would address this the best, one of which is caste-based reservations. While the recognition is appreciable, the stance on reservations at the moment seems like a passive approach, and initiative on this seems unlikely at the moment. The preliminary manifesto shared by Moksh mentions that the party would be lobbying for a return of condom vending machines, which sounds like a step towards a less tabooed association with sex. However, no provisions are yet mentioned regarding easier access to other contraceptives, any menstrual products, or pregnancy tests. It has also mentioned that they would be lobbying for female attendants to be present at all times for female patients, which is a necessary move to make women students feel more comfortable on the campus. However, the lack of any mention regarding the trans-housing policy in the preliminary manifesto is a glaring absence. It is yet to be seen which addendums would be added to the final manifesto.