Creating history by being the first-ever Woman President of Panjab University Students’ Council, Kanupriya has set up a path for other women towards fairer representation and assertion. In a conversation with Campus Watch correspondent Muntaha Amin, Kanupriya talks about what made her contest elections, what inspired her along the way and what is her vision for the future.
Muntaha Amin: Please tell our readers about yourself first and how you decided to contest
Kanupriya: When I saw a progressive organisation in the university, an alternative, which focused on issue-based politics, I was quite inspired. Their first protest itself made me a participant. SFS’s (Students for Society) women were sitting on a protest against sexual harassment and the year I came, 2014, SFS was contesting elections for the first time with a woman candidate. The women used to live on my floor, and I used to see them roaming around with posters, charts and all. This mobilisation helped me join their discussions, protests etc. and that is how I got into the party. I was quite inspired.
MA: What were the issues and problems on the campus?
K: The main issues are: first, that the hostel allotments are non-transparent. Under the table, applications get signed because of that. We want to bring transparency in this process with the help of an online portal. The hostel which is opening is a PG model, and quite expensive. New economical hostels aren’t being built. There is no demand for that. Privatization is an issue the university is facing. Everything is becoming expensive and unaffordable. We want to bring all this awareness to the forefront and work against such anti-student policies. We know that these signs, these memorandums alone can’t stop privatisation. We are hoping to build a pan-India solidarity front to tackle issues like privatisation of education and universities. We want a pan-India representation of students and alumni with institutions across the country. Other issues are gender sensitisation on the campus and the hostel curfew timings.
MA: How had this election been different and why has it been called Historical?
K: This election was different because it busted two big myths in the university: one that you cannot contest or win the election without political backing and support, without money and muscle power, and another that women are incapable of contesting or being elected. (laughs).
We worked to push forward an alternate model of issue-based politics by talking to and connecting with people. And we decided to fight patriarchy and this kind of mindset.
MA: What has been the gender representation in other parties earlier?
K: Not a fair representation I would say. Even if they give posts, the first two posts are almost always given to men, i.e. of president and vice-president. When NSUI tried giving an important ticket to a woman candidate, the decision created a rift in their party. You can understand what kind of mindset that points towards.
MA: How sensitive would you say is the campus otherwise on matters of caste, class and gender?
K: Nahi hai sensitisation. There is no sensitisation related to general issues as well. There are students who don’t know about mob lynchings in the country; they don’t know what the Palestine issue is. About caste they say, “nahi hota caste, kahan hota hai.” Regarding gender, the positive thing from the side of women in this election was that a woman contesting and winning the election was celebrated by so many women outside of the party as well. They were dancing. That busted another earlier argument that “ladki ladki ko vote nahi deti.” (laughs).
MA: How politicised is the campus?
K: The walls here don’t speak. We are not allowed to paste posters. We are not really allowed to hold nataks and events because these methods are very powerful. Speaking of which reminds me of a time in 2014, some people of SFS were randomly giving tickets, and I also got a 10 rupee ticket. Next day, I saw their naatak, and from that day itself, I volunteered to do poster making etc. work for them because you know this is the mobilising power of naatak and things like that. We are not allowed to campaign after 5 p.m. and rallies have been banned. On the other hand, ABVP had all the freedom to book the golden jubilee hall and throw pool parties and other parties, bribe people with alcohol (alcohol toh Panjab University ka open secret hai) and what not!
MA: What is the vision for the future?
K: I really want that when the tenure of this year is over, this place to be politicised much more. In one sense we have already achieved some amount of victory there. The content of speeches in classes have changed. Everyone is talking about privatisation. I really wish there are more well-meaning parties and that people question everything and question us on our ideologies and only vote after much deliberation. I want more women assertion. Women coming from anywhere need to have a say, need to assert themselves. That is my vision.
MA: How is SFS’s manifesto different from the manifestos of other parties, especially the mainstream ones?
K: Mainstream parties have never even tried to connect to or talk to the masses, not tried to go into classes, into rooms, to talk about issues faced by them. I ask them, how then do you build a manifesto, just superficially? Throughout the years, our participation has remained inside rooms, with students. Then only have they (students) realised the importance of our agendas. We are not like we will get placements… this that, no! We have held campaigns against sexual harassment, against fascism and other such pressing issues.