This year marks the centenary of the University of Delhi, popularly known as DU. With its rich and glorious legacy of 100 years, DU has played a pivotal role in educating generations of women – shaping their ideas, personalities and careers – thereby revolutionising Indian society and setting the agenda on gender equity.
Over these 100 years, Delhi University has grown tremendously, starting from three colleges to 90 colleges and 86 departments today with over 6 lakh students from across India. DU has 22 women’s colleges affiliated with it, out of which two – Miranda House and Lady Shri Ram College – have constantly ranked among the top two colleges of India in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) rankings by the Ministry of Education.
The strength of female students has also enhanced dramatically over the years, as Vice Chancellor Yogesh Singh pointed out in the inauguration ceremony to mark the centenary held on 1 May. As per his words, there were only 82 girls studying in the University in 1930, 340 in 1940, 1,737 in 1950 and now in 2022, there are 3,24,067 girls studying in the University, which makes up more than half the University’s total student strength.
Women in administration
Looking at the administration and the top bodies in the University who take decisions on important matters, female representation has been visible and encouraged over the years. DU has two councils namely the Academic and Executive Council. The Academic Council, which is the highest academic body of the University, presently has 22 female members who are mostly Deans of Faculties and Heads of Departments. Out of 21 elected teacher’s representatives, four seats are reserved for women candidates in the academic council. The Executive Council, which looks after the management and administrative affairs of the University, has around 26 members, out of which seven are women at present.
From student to Dean
Professor Dr Najma Rehmani, who is a member of the Academic Council, shares her experience of her long journey at DU as a student and now as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts in North Campus, DU. She also heads the Department of Urdu and the Department of Slavonic And Finno-Ugrian Studies. It is remarkable that when this first generation learner from a middle-class family graduated from Kirori Mal College in 1984, she was the University topper of her batch.
Rehmani went on to do her post-graduation, MPhil, B.Ed and eventually PhD from DU. After that, she started teaching at DU and later joined NDA for a brief period of three years. The passion for teaching pulled her back to DU and since then, there was no turning back.
“Being a Muslim lady, I didn’t face any kind of discrimination in any capacity neither as a student nor as a teacher”, says Rehmani. She appreciated the administration for being always supportive and attentive to her issues. On DU completing 100 years, she proudly highlights the changes she has seen over the years in the University. “The campus atmosphere has become more open to diverse views and opinions, students socialise more openly, especially the girls have become more confident”, she added.
Reflecting upon her journey as a female student, she appreciates how female students have come into front spaces in academics, extracurricular activities or sports. She points out that the competition for designing the centenary logo was won by a girl student.
Talking about the faculty, she says more than 50% are women, in which Deans of five major departments are headed by women. She said the University has been providing various scholarships and fellowships, especially to female students, and they should use this ‘open platform’ wisely. Rehmani appreciates the inclusive atmosphere at the University and gives credit to this openness which helped immensely in her career.
Back in 1964, when women were mostly confined indoors, Dr Durgabai Deshmukh, who was also the wife of VC at that time, came up with a vision of association for the women’s fraternity of the DU called Delhi University Women’s Association (DUWA). To this day, DUWA actively organises social, cultural, recreational, educational and economic activities for the benefit of the women members which also includes female staff, women relatives of students and the female faculty residing in or around the campus area.
To address women’s concerns in higher education, and to provide a space for systematic research of gender-related issues, DU came up with the Women’s Studies and Development Centre of Advanced Study (WSDC) in 1987. WSDC has been guided and nurtured by eminent women professors as Directors, who brought in their subject expertise to women’s studies.
Dr Manjit Bhatia, who is an Associate Professor of gender studies and a permanent faculty at WSDC, talks about how WSDC has taken up several research projects along with a national research project on the girl child.
Highlighting the challenges faced by female students on campus, Bhatia says WSDC had actively coordinated and contributed to the University’s framing of the policy against sexual harassment and in its implementation. To ensure a safe and secure learning environment, DU has a central Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) which includes faculties, departments, centres and halls. Along with this, every college at DU is required to maintain its own ICC.
Inclusivity and diversity
Adrija Roychowdhury, journalist and author who is working with the Indian Express, shares how her time at DU as a student shaped her career and personality. She did her graduation and post-graduation in History from Delhi University. She recalls her graduation days at Lady Shri Ram College, and proudly calls them ‘the foundational years of her life.’
Women’s colleges, she states, have a ‘charm and aura’ which is unmatchable. The freedom and voice these spaces provide to female students is not possible in co-ed colleges.
“Women’s colleges give you space to be unapologetically comfortable in your own skin”, says Roychowdhury. She feels the best part of being a student at DU is that you get to make friends from different states, and learn their culture and traditions which makes you a more tolerant, inclusive and less judgemental human being.
Roychowdhury also feels that a student in DU is not expected to be inclined toward a certain ideology, which means students enjoy much greater political liberty and freedom of thought than on certain other campuses.
Women have found adequate representation in Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU), where they have been politically active and gone on to become famous politicians and leaders. DUSU has also given representation to female students, which is the representative body of most colleges and faculties.
Apart from this, each college has its own students union, including women’s colleges. Most of these students union members are affiliated with different political parties and ideologies. From time to time, female student leaders have raised their voices on issues affecting students and society as a whole.
Delhi University’s alumni went on to become great leaders, like Aung San Suu Kyi, Sheila Dikshit, Kiran Bedi and Meira Kumar, who was the first woman Lok Sabha Speaker. Over the years, many more became a source of inspiration for girls.
Emphasis on skills
Dr Savita Roy, Principal of Daulat Ram College for Women, who is also a member of the Executive Council, shares her experience of heading an all-girls college and the special initiatives taken by her and the faculty of her college to help the girls realise their goals. Roy completed her graduation, post-graduation and PhD from DU and started various skill development programs in her college which are free of cost.
With the help of the faculty, different skills like painting, singing and music, value education and mindfulness have been taught during the vacations and breaks since 2014, which have proved highly successful and seen active participation by the students. She also started add-on regular courses on legal literacy and data analysis which are kept open for girls with minimal fees.
“DU has nurtured and inculcated girls’ education since its inception without a bias towards boys,” she said. She feels proud of her students who have been working in high positions as judges in courts, civil servants and ambassadors in foreign nations. She further adds that a woman student of DU can be found doing exceptionally well in any field or profession.
Asked to compare DU with other private and foreign universities, Roy says DU has continued to provide high-quality education with ample opportunities in sports and extracurricular at affordable rates, thereby attracting girls from remote corners of the country.
Salma Sultan was an icon for millions when Doordarshan was the only channel offering news. She enjoyed a vast fan following due to her style of presenting news bulletins. Having the most graceful aura, she was one of the most-admired journalists in the country. She says her time at DU shaped her personal and professional life.
“Way back in the 1960s, IP College symbolised hope – the hope for a better, liberated future for girls. For me, it was a rare opportunity to learn from distinguished teachers, which enabled me to face life’s challenges and rise above them”, she remarks.
She mentions how some of her professors left a lasting mark on her and she still remembers, like it was yesterday, that they were her mentors at DU. She recalls, “I have vivid memories of Dr Uttam Singh and Mrs Indu Jain, whose benign presence was a source of encouragement and inspiration. I have nothing but fond memories of my college and I cherish them.”