In Conversation with Dr. Shahana Bhattacharya


Parivartan- The Gender Forum of Kirori Mal College (KMC), is one of the oldest and inclusive gender forums of the University of Delhi. Parivartan means change, and with this idea, the founding members of Parivartan attempted to provide a platform that could encourage change- a breakthrough from societal norms. Further to talk about things we are not “supposed” to talk about.

Parivartan engages in interactive discussions on various gender issues. As one should note that no issue could be understood in isolation. Gender is everywhere. Gender is part of one’s identity. Starting from how one is conditioned to how one dresses, sits, or even talks to people. It is all gendered.

With this societal gendering, emerges the notion of control and then violence. Gradually becoming structural Thus, forums like Parivartan, allow students to not only discuss gender issues but to grow as sensitive beings. And form a safe and more inclusive space.

How it all begun ..

Credit : Dr. Bhattacharya

Back in 1997, a group of teachers of KMC felt the need for an inclusive space that could take up gender issues and work towards sensitization. In this group effort, Parivartan came into existence. Dr. Shahana Bhattacharya, Associate Professor, Department of History, Kirori Mal College is one of the founding members of the gender forum.

Brown Girl Gossip was able to reach out to Dr. Bhattacharya to know more about Parivartan. And her perspective on gender- as an ever-evolving phenomenon.

What was the process, the ideas that went behind the creation of Parivartan?

Parivartan, The Gender Forum of KMC was set up in 1997 in college. For about ten years, the gender forum additionally functioned as the ‘Women’s Development Cell’ of KMC due to the Government Grant we sought and were able to receive till 2007. We aimed the forum to be gender-inclusive, and hence named ourselves ‘Parivartan – The Gender Forum, KMC.’

A few of us teachers strongly felt the need to set up a forum or group that could take up questions and issues of gender for students, faculty, and other staff – but especially students.

What kind of struggles did you go through in that process of creating a safe space, and how did you deal with them?

Those uncomfortable with the things we raised would avoid us, or belittle the things Parivartan raised as too minor, and unimportant. There was also the attempt to stereotype Parivartan from time to time as a society of queer folk alone, or as those who advocated homosexuality – or more recently, a society of ‘feminazis’ – all for raising the ‘radical’ demand of equal treatment and acceptance! The important thing though is to persist, and know that in fact, there are many more who stand with us, supporting the cause of gender parity.

Credit : Dr. Bhattacharya

Did you ever feel being targeted due to your gender as you continued to voice for an inclusive space, which was rather stereotyped from time to time? How did you deal with such circumstances, who was your support system?

I think the fact is that KMC is a very real place, which I really like. It has all the real-world challenges and a mix of people, across classes, castes, regions – and attitudes. So, it has been as challenging I guess as trying to live by these ideals or fighting patriarchy in the city and outside the college gates. Times were also different earlier – for instance when we started, the Vishaka Guidelines and Supreme Court Judgements had just been passed, but of course, there was no policy on Sexual Harassment in Delhi University (DU).

It was also difficult to talk at the start about gender beyond ‘women’s issues.’ To talk about sexuality and masculinity for instance. But I think somehow students responded, participated, and attended, perhaps because these questions, problems, issues existed. The focus was to understand gender and gendering as it operates within us, how it is internalized – through workshops, discussions, etc.

As a professor of History, how do you think gender dynamics have changed with time?

Gender dynamics have changed significantly over the years. With more women in the institution, more spaces opening up to discuss gender. Over the years there has emerged a wider acceptance of gender deviant behavior in college. The pace is slow. There is also a frightening persistence of misogyny and homophobia in sections in the college. History would not necessarily change the nature of gender dynamics or politics automatically, if we don’t intervene, consciously and collectively.

On message you would like to convey to the world ?

The message of the 1968 students’ movement ‘Be realistic, Demand the Impossible’ has to be raised. And even if change – towards a goal as big as ending patriarchy – might seem too much, or even impossible the right to demand it and struggle for it – has to be asserted. 

Credit : Dr. Bhattacharya

Many students, especially women, see you as their inspiration, source of power. However, being a woman in a patriarchal society is scary. Is there anything that scares you?

The possibility of our desire to fight against injustice coming to an end, of our becoming ‘comfortably numb’ to inequity around us.