It was a day that will go down in the history of Panjab University student politics. The campus elected its first woman president from a Left-leaning party on Thursday, after which a victory march by around 80 girl students was taken out from girls’ hostel 3, covering 4, 5, 7, to number 6.
Kanu Priya, the new Panjab University Campus Student Council president, stood by her party’s large banner depicting revolutionary Bhagat Singh, with a red smear on her cheek.
It was not surprising that woman volunteers from other parties also joined the rally as all of them got together to lift Priya up on their shoulders and carry her as a beacon of change in the male-dominated politics of the campus, “Naari mukti, sabki mukti, zindabad”, they shouted.
“You know, when I got news that Kanu Priya was about to win, I felt a shiver run down my spine. And I had goosebumps all over,” said Nihal Kaur, a hostel inmate.
She added that everyone, starting from the receptionist at her hostel to mess staff, was in a celebratory mood.
“When we were walking from hostel to hostel, shouting slogans of women empowerment, girls who were watching from their balconies joined us screaming Inquilab Zindabad,” said Saadat Kaur, a resident of girls’ hostel 3, adding that this was not just about a specific student organisation, but a positive change.
Women student leaders, who have contested the presidential post or held an office, shared the same feeling of being “overwhelmed”. They said Priya’s win transcended party politics and differences in ideologies.
“I feel really proud that a woman has finally made it. It shows how the mentality is changing. I congratulate her deeply and hope that despite our ideological differences, she will be a beacon of positive change in the university,” said Siya Minocha who contested for the post of president in 2016 as a candidate of the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI). She stood fourth and got 2,074 votes.
The university has a woman population of at least 60 per cent. Despite four woman presidential candidates in the last five years, it is only this year that students elected a woman president. However, women have been elected to other office-bearer posts.
The NSUI was the first to field a woman candidate in 2006, followed by the Students Federation of India (SFI) in 2013, the Students for Society (SFS) in 2014, the NSUI again in 2016 and then the SFS in 2017 and 2018. Last year, Hassan Preet of the SFS came second with 2,190 votes.
Vani Sood, PUCSC 2017 joint secretary, said, “I feel proud that a girl has achieved this feat. But till yesterday, she was a member of the SFS, now she stands for everyone. I don’t think being a girl is any different because if you believe you’re equal then everyone will treat you as an equal.”
As for challenges faced by women student leaders, Minocha said she felt that it was a struggle that she could not campaign at night, but what was most unfortunate was that girls were not confident of a woman representing them.
Preet said she had lost last year because she was a woman candidate.
“But that myth is shattered now. The taboo was more for the presidential post, I feel. But now that the gender norm has broken, women’s assertion will increase,” she said.
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