Published: 17th December 2018
How Panjab University President Kanu Priya successfully ran a historic campaign to end curfew on campus
Panjab University's first female President has managed her first big victory — curbing the curfew imposed in women's hostels
On September 6, a tired but jubilant Kanu Priya who had just been declared the first woman President of Panjab University was walking back to her hostel. She slowed down as she approached the gate to the hostel and waited as the guard unlocked the gate. While he did so, she thought to herself, "I have to first figure out a way to break this lock." Three months later, she did. Well, figuratively at least. After almost a 50 day struggle, the University administration finally gave in to the students' demands and have taken off the unfair curfew timings they had imposed on the women students.
This is not Kanu Priya's first victory, "But it's a historic one," she says. We only reached out to Kanu Priya over the phone but we can bet a million bucks that she was all smiles while she talked to us. The ecstatic President knew she had just made history. The long drawn out protest was the first of its kind on campus and historic from the very beginning — it was the first time that women students remained outside the hostel rooms after 9 pm. Everyone kept expecting the students to give up but no one did, they kept up the fight till the very end.
Finally, the members of the Senate at the University decided it was about time that they brought it up for discussion at their meeting. On Saturday, Kanu Priya who is the only student representative to be allowed to attend the Senate meeting stood outside the door and handed out a memorandum to all the members. Some smiled, some scoffed but nevertheless took it with them inside the room. The meeting went on for a solid three hours. Some of the senate members spoke in support of Kanu Priya and her fellow protestors, some others slammed the students for demanding curfew-free hostels. That day, as she sat in the balcony of the hall and watched the proceeding, she says at some points she was beaming with pride and at others, she wanted to throw up her hand in the air and demand a chance to argue. But unfortunately, she wasn't allowed.
Taking lead: Kanu Priya during one of the protests they took out to demand a 24/7 campus
"I'm not allowed to speak during the Senate meeting, it is quite a big deal that I'm ever sitting there. That only happened again because the students sent several letters, applications and held protests to demand a space in the meetings," she said. Recalling some of the arguments in the Senate, Kanu Priya said, "Some of the things that people said were just beautiful and it was so thrilling to hear them speak for us. One gentleman said, "What twisted logic is this to lock up the women and when we are trying to give them an education?" Another asked how it was fair to put the women behind the cages, when the predators should be behind them, like in a zoo."
Some, of course, brought in the "this is not our culture" excuse, "In the name of security, some people kept saying the same old things. That our safety would be at risk and our parents would be happier if there was a curfew. When they kept coming up with such unreasonable statements, I wanted to stand up and give tell them that we deserve security on campus at all times of the day and night and it has nothing to do with whether we are locked up inside or not. But I couldn't say anything but everytime someone said something supportive, I would give them a thumbs up!" she said, laughing.
Initially, the administration said they would slash the fine by 50 percent and charge only 50 rupees for late entries but the students refused the offer. Even as the discussions carried on, the students' voices outside the went on chanting their demands. "They tried to make us agree to a lesser fine and an extension till 11 pm but we were just not having it," she said, continuing to smile widely. Finally, the Senate agreed to slash the fines completely.
"We have to see first if they will properly implement the culture of 24/7 in our campus. We want to develop an atmosphere of cultural evenings where we will meet and have discussions in the evening."
Now, the students have to just fill in a register that would be present at the gates but they are answerable to no one. An official notice about the curfew hasn't been sent out yet but Kanu Priya has already tested the waters, "Last two days we've been asking the students to go out of the hostels just to see if this dream of ours has actually come true," she says bursting into laughter, "Some students still call me and ask if I'm absolutely sure that they won't be stopped. In case they are, they just hand over the phone to the guards and I tell them and it's all sorted!"
When she came out of the meeting, Kanu Priya said she saw students with tears streaming down their faces, "They were all so happy. It was a huge victory for us. After all the protests and years of putting up with patriarchal rules on campus, this came as such a relief to all of us," she said. But she immediately adds that this doesn't mean that the campus has complete gender equality, "We have to see first if they will properly implement the culture of 24/7 in our campus. We want to develop an atmosphere of cultural evenings where we will meet and have discussions in the evening."
She also said that she hopes to bring more transparency to how the hostel functions and also increase the reading spaces available to the students currently. But for now, she and the other women students are focussed on celebrating a victory they still can't believe is theirs. "Instead of good morning and good night, we've been saying congratulations to each other the last two days!" a proud Kanu Priya told us.