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From Elitism to Tokenism: The unhealthy culture which DU societies need to break off with

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Delhi University has always been and hopefully will be the aspiration of the young and zealous students who study diligently to score well enough marks, which could help land them at their dream college. Among the things that earn DU this reputation is the encouragement to creative fields provided here with various societies’ help. Societies are the soul of colleges. From Dramatics societies known for their vibrancy and pep to Debating Societies known for their perspective and striking elocution, each one is unique and nonpareil. DU Societies being a launchpad for celebrities like Shahrukh Khan, Imtiaz Ali, Shashi Tharoor, to name a few, have also earned them a decent amount of brownie points and glory. At every DU college, one can find the societies which suit their interests.

Enough has been said in praise of the societies; while they do deserve the applauds they get, there’s also a need to highlight and hold them accountable for their unhealthy and discriminatory culture, which demands change and needs to be reformed.

Lack Of Diversity

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With every new academic year, we can hear some wisenheimer senior’s voice through the corridor advising a fresher to join a society. “Societies will help you grow, you’ll get a lot of exposure”, “You’ll find your type of crowd in societies,” they’ll say. Even I got this advice from many people, but when I asked one of my Northeast friends whether she too got any such advice, her answer was plain NO.

“I didn’t join any societies because I was scared. I couldn’t find many people from the North-east in the societies. It’s anyways tough for us to get adjusted in the class where our teachers forget that DU is a central University and use Hindi as a teaching medium. How could I expect the people from society to go the extra mile to make me feel included?” said a 2nd-year student from Nagaland.

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Societies are primarily homogenous. There’s not enough Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi representation seen. With this, one can comprehend that what kind of ‘crowd’ is being insinuated in that wisenheimer senior’s aforementioned statement. With this, the question arises, what is the crowd for students coming from marginalized backgrounds? Do they have a place in societies? 

Elitism

With lack of diversity comes elitism. Most societies are like a one-stop destination for all the English-speaking students coming from privileged backgrounds. At one glance, it makes you believe that all the talents are only reserved for the elite. Their supremacy exists in many ways. Often students who are not fluent in English are disparaged. Many are judged on how they dress up, how they speak, where they come from etc. The list is endless. And in all of this setup, the “non-elites” find no place for themselves. 

Fatuous Competitions and their hypocrisy

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Of late, it’s been noticed that how sounding woke has become a trend in DU society culture. You’ll see numerous competitions like painting, debating, or open mic being organized every other day on the same “woke” topics like women empowerment, gender equality, castism, or any other social issue. It makes no sense that the same societies that don’t have a single member belonging to the marginalized community want to throw light on castism by organizing such competitions.

It’s absurd how the Women Development cells formed to empower women have men as primary office bearers. No one objects to this, many even find them deserving enough to hold the position, and this is how to goes on every year. Every year on Women’s day, we see a full display of tokenism as some WDC (Women Development Cell) decides to organize random competitions out of obligation, which has no objective whatsoever.

This makes me wonder, for whom are these competitions being held. Except for popularizing the society and its members and giving the office bearers a chance to assert their powers and a reason to socialize, what purpose are they solving? 

If we look around, we can effortlessly notice how there’s a lot of preaching happening but not practicing. So, the next time your society tries to organize a competition on Women Empowerment, take a moment to think about whether it will help solve the sexism and misogyny prevailing in your society members?

Society Politics

Politics is deeply engrained within the society culture. It’s kind of unfair that we are not warned about this part early enough because no one wants to knowingly sign up for the dirty politics and the toxicity that comes with it. 

“Being part of multiple societies of my college and handling positions of responsibility for the same, the one thing that I have always observed is that college societies are like a two-edged sword. While everything seems shimmering from the outside, the inside politics in any society is something that cannot be chucked easily. The concept of favoritism is so deeply engrossed in the societies that the favourites turn to be the “Office Bearers” of the society and the deserving ones are left with no choice but to either serve as a mere member even after giving their all for three years or just step straight out of it. It also causes a rift between friends which I have personally experienced.” -Kriti Garg a 2nd-year student from Ram Lal Anand College.

Hierarchy is an exaggerated concept but is followed religiously in societies. And the power dynamics generated by it give rise to Politics. History has it that with politics comes disagreements and rifts between even the nearest and dearest ones. Politics in societies is a grim reality, which we can’t escape from but we can constantly try to create a more healthy, safe and fair model of it.

Over the top selection process

Some societies are infamous for their challenging selection process. After rigorous rounds of auditions, they decide who deserves to be a part of the society. These societies wear their batch of exclusivity with honor which contradicts with the idea of giving opportunity. Societies that are considered a learning space where students are nurtured and learn lessons that they can’t anywhere else are often seen gatekeeping. During the auditions, they forget that there might be people who didn’t have the same opportunities and resources as them and judge everyone with the same criteria. This speaks volumes about privileged folks of societies, how there is a lack of accessibility and how one has to pass through layers of stereotypes, judgments and conform to the norm to get into the society.

Mental Health

Apart from all of this, the society culture can be very toxic. The time and devotion it demands can be very taxing for some. Students are seen struggling to cope up emotionally and having their mental health compromised because of the toxicity. While it all hides behind the veil of hard work, passion, and good old “societies demands time”, it may also stem from the thought that out of all the college students, you are the chosen ones who are talented and worthy enough to be in the society so now after joining the society You have to live up to it. Mental health issues are a matter of concern and should not become a norm. The office bearers especially should make efforts to ensure that no one’s mental health is being compromised because of the society and that it is a safe space for everyone.

All of this is not written to take shots at society culture. The aim is to highlight the misconduct and iniquity which is hidden in plain sight. The inaccessibility, elitism, tokenism, toxic nature, and lack of representation have no place in today’s world. There’s a dire need for change not only in the management but also in mentality. From students to faculty, everyone must take responsibility for this and take measures to eradicate such evils. Only after this can DU societies stay relevant in the long run, thrive, and achieve greater heights.

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