Published: 17th September 2018
Women are ready to be treated as equals: Kanupriya, Panjab University's first woman President in 136 years
The Zoology Honours student represented the Students for Society party and just became the first ever woman president in Panjab University
As a brand new student at Panjab University, Kanu Priya remembers how her room had always been flooded with campaigners promising her all things nice and beautiful. All of them were men and no one said anything that mattered to her and then finally a woman entered. This woman spoke to her, actually spoke to her. At the end of the conversation, Kanu donated 10 rupees and joined the Students for Society party. Today, five years later, Kanu Priya is the first EVER woman president of the University.
Panjab University was established in 1882, that means that it has taken the campus 136 years to finally come to terms with the fact that women can actually become leaders. When I asked her what was the one immediate difference that she saw on campus after she was declared the president, Kanu Priya said that she saw women look up. She saw them come out on campus and celebrate but most of all what struck her was that for the first time ever, she saw women look up without fear, look up with a smile.
Right Priorities: The first thing on her agenda is to make it possible for women to reclaim their spaces on campus
For years now, the campus has thrived on toxic masculinity and sexual harassment has been rampant. "Even going to the library or standing at the bus stop or even going to the gurudwara is such a torturous experience. The men on campus will pass lewd comments or forcefully make conversation and would sometimes even follow us holding beer bottles in their hands. It became difficult for women to have a normal life on campus," Kanu Priya said. The 22-year old is a Zoology student in a five-year integrated course at the University.
That is why when a woman candidate approached her as a fresher, it changed her perspectives on a lot of things. "All the male nominees who approached me all said one thing - I know someone from your town. Almost everyone seemed to have a relative in the town that I come from. I found this hilarious and then Harpreet Kaur from SFS came and spoke about issues. Issues that actually affected me. So I just donated 10 rupees and became a member, I had no idea then that I would reach this stage," Kanu said. But when she started, the only contribution that she could make was to make posters for the party since she knew nothing about politics and confesses she was just a sympathiser.
"Through my time at SFS I have learned that politics is personal, issues that affect us personally have to sometimes be dealt with politically. I was able to find a voice through SFS like so many others, especially female students. Patriarchy affected us personally but we learned that we could tackle it at a political level," she said.
Drumming on: Kanupriya said that the best part of winning was watching women finally look up from the shadows
People are still coming to terms with the fact that a woman managed to win the elections but Kanu says that she was pretty confident that the votes would come her way. Many people had been apprehensive about her nomination and said the party might lose because last year too the woman candidate had lost. But her party members were firm about having a woman candidate.
Her campaign hours were long and erratic but guess who were her biggest cheerleaders? Her parents, "The only time they could speak to me was in the morning at 6.30 when I woke up, the rest of the day I would be super busy. But the first thing they would tell me was "Jaldi Uto, campaigning jaana hai"." The student says that her father's Facebook page went through a drastic make-over after she filed her nomination, "His Facebook was completely blank before my campaign started but ever since he's always sharing my posts and he's friends with almost all the members of the party," Kanu said, laughing.
But even her parents weren't spared from the criticism with regard to that fact that Kanu, was, unfortunately, a woman, "People even told my parents to keep my younger sister away from all these things. But my parents responded by saying that they were happy with what I was doing and when my sister would be old enough, they would support her dreams as well." Even when others accused her of doing "unwomanly things", Kanu said her parents only told her to concentrate on her job and disregard these taunts.
Big support: Kanupriya along with her parents after her stunning victory
So after the long gruesome hours, I asked Kanu what success felt like. She tells me that funnily enough she didn't feel overwhelmed or relieved or even overly excited, like most winners do. "I didn't feel much. But when I came out and saw my party members and other women on campus burst into tears, that's when it truly hit me. That's when I broke down too. The fact that the others were so overjoyed is what really moved me," the Zoology honours student said.
The girls on campus then came and carried her on their shoulders as the others distributed laddoos. It was while she was being carried that she noticed how the women were stepping out of the shadows, "The women students are finally reclaiming their spaces on campus. They are asserting their identities and now they feel like they have someone in power who is actually approachable. Women are ready to be treated as equals, our time has come," Kanu said.
As somebody who comes off as being so aspirational, is Kanu also thinking about taking a plunge into mainstream politics too? She says no, she has no such plans. What she wants to do though is continue her activism, "I want to be part of the resistance but I also want to continue in the science field but that also included walking in the science marches." She will go down in history as the first ever president of Panjab University, but this is surely the beginning of many firsts for Kanu Priya