Select Your Politics, You Cannot Be Isolated: Student Leader Kanu Priya
In conversation with the newly elected Punjab University student council president
Kanu Priya, the MSc. Zoology student representing Students for Society (SFS) was recently elected president of the Punjab University Campus Students Council (PUCSC). She is the first woman to win the post. She defeated rival ABVP-led alliance candidate Ashish Rana by a margin of 719 votes and another four male candidates backed by the Students Organisation of India (SOI), the National Students Union of India (NSUI), the Punjab University Students Union (PUSU) and the Punjab Students Union.
The Citizen recently spoke to Kanu Priya on her journey, her politics, struggle and the working of Students for Society.
Could you tell us about your charter of demands for the election?
Our demands included addressing irregularities in hostel allotment, bringing transparency in the setup and fee payment procedure of hostels through an online portal, asking the administration to establish new hostels. Punjab University is a public university and everyone is to be treated equally. The university administration is focused on creating self-financed hostels; if the administration succeeds, it is going to create a class hierarchy within the campus. Many students do not have the capacity to pay hefty amounts as hostel fees. Our main concern is to address this issue and bring hostels under a normalised rate.
The timings of the ladies' hostel are a challenge. We have a deadline of 9 pm and we want this deadline to go away, and to have access to the hostel 24*7. The creation of a safe environment within the campus is also on our agenda.
Our agenda also includes maintaining the student–teacher ratio within the classroom without affecting the learning of students. We are going to address issues on reduction of funds for scholarships, research grants, stipends and the privatisation of education and increase in tuition fees in the university.
Also, we are planning a pan-India campaign to bring awareness among students about the privatisation of education and increasing tuition fees.
The next thing on our list is to enhance commuting facilities within the campus. We will try to promote E-rickshaws and create a safe communitarian space for everyone on campus. In 2015 a referendum called for a ban on four-wheelers within the campus, as many perpetrators of sexual harassment were driving four wheelers. We are trying to create an equal space within the campus.
What’s your view on the present day student political spectrum? How can student politics be further strengthened?
What I have felt and seen is that there is very little transparency within the student politics happening at the university level. Most of the time, people are not aware about the candidates contesting in the elections and they also believe that politics is dirty. Many of them choose to remain ignorant about elections. But they are not aware that by being apolitical (ignorant) they are being political and taking a political stand.
As student leaders, we have to target this consciousness among students which they choose to live with. Make them politically aware irrespective of the disciplines they are studying. This should be one of our focus areas. And this has been one of the major content in my speeches.
“Select your politics, you cannot be isolated!!”
There is an urge to establish a connection between students' immediate issues and politics. Do we want a hostel where we have to pay Rs 55,000 or Rs 500; do we want to address the reduction in scholarships, research grants, stipends etc?
When students are made aware about such problems and the process of politics that have been happening at the central and state level, they feel an immediate connect with the vulnerabilities that they are facing.
What’s the way forward?
Our political measures will remain unfruitful if we don’t take our style of politics out of the campus. That’s why members of SFS are focused on bringing awareness to the worker-peasant class. We engage with people who are being marginalised and try to understand their issues. Establish a connection with their issues and raise those issues in public sphere. Just writing a memorandum won’t bring change in our society. We have to make people more aware politically.
During this long journey, were you ever threatened or harassed by other political groups?
I was never threatened or put under any pressure by other political groups. However, I would like to point out two instances which are regressive in nature. During the elections a reporter visited our campus and asked who was going to win this time. A person from another political group replied that SFS might win, if they did not repeat the same mistake of putting up a female candidate. People here believe that politics is not for women and putting up a female candidate is a grave mistake and shows that you are weak.
The second instance, which happened recently, is when 'Kirron Kher' (a BJP MLA) said that this time, due to sympathy votes a female candidate had won. Whereas we believe that the SFS win shows we have done our ground work, due to which voters connected with us. The SFS body elected female candidates in 2014 and 2017 too. If it was for 'sympathy', we could have won elections at that time also.
This 2018 win isn’t some sympathy win.
Could you elaborate on support from your family; how was your experience with them during elections?
It is important to tell you that my family does not have any political leanings.
I have been an active member of the student community. I have participated in various events within the campus including protests and rallies. I always kept my family updated with campus goings-on. Sometimes we had arguments, and agreed as well as disagreed on many ends.
I was not sure about their response to the elections. When I talked to them about contesting the elections, surprisingly I got a positive response. My mom said, “Don’t be scared.” They did not have any problem if I contested the elections. They supported me wholeheartedly and always kept encouraging me. Just before election day, my mother said to me, have a big heart and don’t be boggled by the result if it does not come in your favour. But, when the results came out positive their excitement and happiness escalated.
Can you explain how SFS works as an organisation?
We have 10 members on the Executive Committee which is elected through a General Body Meeting (GBM). The Executive Committee chalks out the future plans. Then we have subcommittees such as the Arts Committee, Science Committee, Hostel Committee etc. which note the issues in those areas and raise it with the Executive Committee to create a working plan.
Dissenting voices are addressed through the GBM where Committees hear the issues and the problems. The Executive Committee sits at least twice a month to get regular updates from sub committees. And, if any problem demands immediate attention, the Executive Council takes a decision or else a GBM is called. Subcommittees meet frequently to keep track of student problems, and every subcommittee also has a member on the Executive Committee.
Do you see yourself and SFS entering into electoral politics at the local, state and national level?
We are acting as a pressure group. It is very different from mainstream political parties. Right now, our focus is to capture the political vacuum in university spaces, which have been captured by mainstream political parties and their student bodies. Also, we are focused on creating people’s movement. Create spaces where citizen can raise their voices. For now, we see ourselves working with society and creating political consciousness on a larger scale.
We do not see ourselves entering into electoral politics right now. We believe in doing groundwork which is mostly engaging with marginalised classes and making them aware of their political rights.