Shormishtha Panja teaches at the University of Delhi. She writes books on critical theory, gender studies and visual culture. She loves being a mom and enjoys travelling to new countries. She is borderline obsessive about food and Renaissance art and guards her collection of children’s fiction fiercely.
International Women's Day and PEHEL
Posted on: 01:52 PM IST Mar 08, 2013 IST
Today is International Women's Day. In spite of being in the middle of a three-day international Shakespeare seminar, when CNN-IBN asked me to do a blog I could not refuse. I take this opportunity to talk once more about PEHEL: Delhi University Women's Support Group that my students and I formed in 2005. This is the only support group in the University where students, non-teaching staff, teachers and karamcharis meet together. Over the years we have tried to raise awareness about women's issues in manifold ways. Students and teachers from the college departments of English and from the Department of Social Work have always been enthusiastic PEHEL members. We have a yahoo group and a Facebook page, Pehel. DU, all formed by students. The very name for our group came from a student as did the logo!
We have shown documentary films like 'QtoP' , 'Unlimited Girls', 'Killing us Softly' and 'Blood on my Hands' and had rousing discussions about women's bodies, taboos about menstruation, rituals that keep women in confined spaces under the guise of pollution or purity, the commodifying effect of advertising on women's bodies; we have had Q and A session with authors like Amitabha Bagchi and Advaita Kala who have spoken about the difficulty of portraying real women in fiction, expectations from marriage, changing sexual norms in the city; we have had lawyers from the Women's Collective speak to us about their work in the de-criminalisation of homosexuality. We have helped individual cases on a one-to-one basis to get counselling and to free themselves from oppressive, even harassing, family situations. We have felicitated Sabrina Lal who spoke to us about her fight for justice for her slain sister Jessica. We have conducted surveys about off-campus housing for girls at DU and brought the glaring anomalies to the notice of the authorities. We have held discussions with north-east students and international students where they spoke about the many problems they faced at DU. We have had meetings with safai karamcharis, conducted surveys about their work conditions and translated the PEHEL newsletter for them into Hindi.
We have had workshops about sexual harassment in the workplace and expedited the formation of Sexual Harassment Committees in some faculties of the University.
And every year in March we hold the PEHEL Mela in the Arts Faculty, University of Delhi, where student groups stage colourful, witty, ironic and energised nukkad nataks about women's issues and we have students create beautiful posters about the need for women's liberation. One year we had a wonderful concert, complete with guitar and drums, by DU students where we all joined in to sing songs about women in many different languages. It is heartening to see the crowds that gather to watch. Hopefully, some seeds are planted in the minds of our spectators and they will try to think about women differently. This year our Mela will be on March 21 and it will be in the memory of the Delhi gang rape victim. The theme is Women and Violence. Aatish, a group formed by a PEHEL alumna, and a group of students from JDM College will perform. Posters will be made.
Our PEHEL newsletter is posted on the DU website. Here's a link:
I write this to explain that the cause of women is not something that only women should be interested in. Some of the most enthusiastic PEHEL members are men. I write this to demonstrate that everyone can do something for the cause of women in however small a way. You may begin the journey alone, but others will join in.