Kasaragod: Members of the Students Federation Of India (SFI), the student wing of the CPM, raised slogans and protested against the presence of an RSS leader at the International Women's Day event in the Central University of Kerala campus on Tuesday.
Central University of Kerala vice-chancellor Prof H Venkateshwarlu invited Guntha Laxman, national joint organising secretary of Akhil Bharatiya Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh (ABRSM), an RSS-affiliated organisation of teachers from pre-primary schools to universities, as the guest of honour of the International Women's Day celebration.
The chief guest for the event was Jawaharlal Nehru University's vice-chancellor Prof Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit.
SFI members shouted 'RSS go back' throughout Laxman's 18 minutes of speech at the event, till the guest of honour was given a chit to wrap up.
In a statement, the SFI said a leader of the Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarti Parishad (ABVP), the students' wing of the RSS, was not an elected people's representative, minister, or government official.
But Guntha Laxman kept his voice above the protesters and said: "Our culture was criticised when it came to women. Our history taught us a lot of nonsense that women were discriminated against. But in our country, women are given the highest respect."
"Women are symbolic of shakti. All the women fought against the demon rule and devils. They smashed all the demonic forces. That concept is not there in any other country. That is my country. You should feel proud of my country, my philosophy. I have given the highest place to women. It is never taught in history (sic)," he said, drowning the slogans of 'RSS go back'.
But he contradicted himself immediately by saying that as a student, he had participated in campaigns against female foeticide. "Two to three decades ago, girl children were killed in the womb. When it came to education, employment, opportunities, women were discriminated against," he said. "But today, the scenario has changed," he said.
In her address, JNU vice-chancellor Prof Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit said the Indian economy remained a boy's club.
India continues to be among the bottom five countries in the Annual Global Gender Gap Index released by the World Economic Forum, she said. "This should outrage our modesty and sentiments," she said.
When it comes to women's economic participation and opportunities, India's ranking is 143 out of 146 countries. "With only Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan ranked below us. We are not in good company," she said.
The Indian government's own employment data released last month shows persistent gaps in the educated urban population, said Prof Pandit. "Among college graduates in urban India, 71.7% of men are employed. But only 23.6% of women hold a paying job," she said.
Only 17% of employed women hold steady salaried jobs, she said. "Majority of women's work is unpaid or underpaid or undercounted. And domestic work is not counted," she said.
But she, too, slipped into the past to say India was a feminist civilisation. She urged women to look into Indic narratives to find their heroes.
"I would say Draupadi was the first feminist. Why? Because she dared to ask questions that most of us could not ask," she said. "She asked her husband (Yudhistar) whether he staked himself first at the game of dice before she was waged. Either way, Draupadi said he is not fit to be a husband," Prof Pandit said.
She also said Draupadi never cooked in the Mahabharata. "King Nala and Bhima were the two husbands who cooked in Mahabharata," she said.
So if somebody says that cooking is the traditional role of women, they are talking through their hat, she said.
The other feminists she listed are Sita as a single mother; Saraswati who never had children, in today's words, she controlled her womb and body; Kanaki, the first citizen activist, and Manimekalai in the eponymous Tamil epic.
"We are the only civilisation which names their gods after their wives. Umapati, Gitapati, Lakshmipati. There is no patni," she said.
"We are a feminist civilisation. The most powerful portfolios in Indra's cabinet are with women," she said, and added, the goddess of knowledge is Saraswati, the goddess of power is Parvathi or Durga or Kali; the goddess of wealth is the daughter of Kuber, Lakshmi.
She asked female students to look into the Indic narratives. The five 'Pativratas' celebrated in mythologies were women who broke the rules not who went by the rules, she said.
Prof Pandit then asked the female students to take up science and technology.
Prof Pandit said JNU celebrated Women's Day on January 3, the 192nd birth anniversary of social reformer and educationist Savitribai Phule. "I have written to the Union government to declare January 3 as the National Women's Day," she said.
To be sure, poet and freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu's birthday anniversary on February 13 is celebrated as National Women's Day in India.
In his address, CUK vice-chancellor Prof Venkateshwarlu said he appreciated the spirit of students who protested. "But I only wish that in a democracy, everyone has a space," he said.