Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit, a political science professor who took over as the first woman vice-chancellor of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) last month, has several items on her agenda, including making a “more gender-friendly campus”.
In an exclusive interview with indianexpress.com, Pandit, who will hold the V-C office for the next five years after taking over from M Jagadesh Kumar, shared her immediate plans for the university.
“With my appointment, the present government broke three glass ceilings. I am a woman from a backward class from a non-Hindi speaking state,” said the newly-appointed VC of JNU.
The central university was established in 1969 and it took more than five decades for a woman to take over the top leadership position at JNU. She added that women’s wellbeing is strongly being influenced by literacy and educated participation within and outside the family, but the government does not have proper women’s representation in selection committees, though it is statutory.
“The survival disadvantage of women as compared to men is very bad. We still have issues of domestic violence and marital rape that are not being properly addressed. More than literacy and education, everybody needs to be sensitised. I have met professors who think it is their birthright to make misogynistic comments at women. They need to be sensitised on workplace ethics and that’s the first thing to do in JNU,” said the 59-year old, who completed her PhD in International Relations from JNU’s School of International Studies in 1990.
“… People say that we, at JNU, are among the most enlightened people. But the question is, are we? A few months back, we had a very bad incident of molestation on campus and I would not like any such thing to be repeated,” Pandit added.
Speaking on gender equity being the need of the hour instead of gender equality, Pandit said that one of her visions is to make “JNU a much more gender-friendly campus”.
“In JNU, we have a lot of dhabas and I would like to give their ownership to women’s self-help groups (SHGs). When we talk about equity, we are talking about equal access. I agree that JNU today has more women students than men, but the representation of women is increasing only at the entry levels. Is there structural violence against women who come into careers? Women do not move to the associate professor or professor level as fast as men,” said Pandit.
She told indianexpress.com that a few men had reached out to her in support of women’s choice of wearing headscarves on education campuses amid the hijab row that took place in Karnataka.
“My philosophy in JNU is that everyone decides what they want to wear. Here we have no rules or regulations and it has to be an individual’s choice, but I don’t want men to decide what women should wear. I told these boys who had come that if you want to wear hijabs, then come and talk,” the vice-chancellor said.
Pandit aims to “make JNU a much more student-centric campus”. “It (JNU) is a unique, inclusive campus. It has a social commitment, and that character has to be maintained. I am worried because I am an alumnus of this university… I have come this far as the university opened up a world for me when I came from Tamil Nadu. I want students, who are coming here to have a similar experience so that they go on to higher positions and make the best of the facilities that we can provide,” she added.
Digitisation is another major task on her to-do list as JNU V-C. “Resources, facilities and infrastructure have to be improved, and we are under a financial crunch, so that too has to be managed. We are seeing how we can make it a more welcoming campus both from a point of view of academic excellence and research,” said Pandit.
Pandit pointed out that the student strength has tripled from when she was on campus at the university and she wants to make the campus a “better place”.
“We were around 3,000 students at that point, and now we have around 9,000 students. Back then, we had only seven hostels as compared to around 17 today. I want as many students, from different parts of India, to come to the campus and study, which also was the case when I was a student… We can make it a better place and change the trademark of a very negative perception of JNU, over which I feel really sad. But what really JNU represents is dissent, difference, and diversity,” she said.