The making of an activist

Mar 08 2013, 01:09 IST
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SummaryKavita Krishnan, Secretary, AIPWA, has had a long education in protest culture

Activism started early in life for Kavita Krishnan when she moved to Mumbai following the riots after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. Today, she’s one of the leading women’s rights activists in the country. At St Xavier’s in Mumbai, Krishnan met a small group led by Arun Ferreira and started participating in protest rallies and performing street plays.

“The college had a sub-culture of activism. We used to lampoon outside the administration building when they were trying to contractualise workers,” Krishnan said. Those were the formative years of her passion for activism. In the following years, issues became deeper and protests turned more vehement. Krishnan joined JNU to pursue her masters. “The only political thought in my mind was that I was against the construct of a women’s identity propagated by the BJP and the ABVP.” She said that even on the campus their idea was padhiye Gita, baniye Sita (read the Gita, become like Sita). “Their idea of a Hindu nation defined the role and place of a woman very strictly,” she says. According to her, that role was not just repellent but also scary. At JNU, she came in contact with more like her. She joined the All India Students’ Association (AISA). She said she was intrigued by the “creative expression of progressive gender politics as part of anti-communal politics” in the organisation.

Krishnan fondly recalls the ‘94 elections at JNU when a Shiv Sena candidate was contesting. “He made a very venomous speech,” she says. “We deliberately went dressed in short skirts and puffing cigarettes.” After his speech, she and her friends asked him what he would do with girls like them if he was voted in. He told them that he’d have them sent to jail. She says the incident shook their conscience and inspired them to actively work for women’s rights. That year, AISA’s Chandrashekhar was elected JNUSU president. The following year Kavita was elected joint secretary.

While she led AISA at JNU through a low tide when right-wing parties were gaining ground and former president, Chandrashekhar, was shot dead, she was the force behind a Gender Sensitisation Committee for Action Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) at both JNU and Delhi University. The body is still active and deals with complaints of sexual harassment.

Krishnan has been at the forefront during the protests for women’s safety and empowerment after the Delhi gang rap. She led scores

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