Punjab University: Students for Society journeys from margins to centre stage in four yearshttps://indianexpress.com/article/education/punjab-university-students-for-society-journeys-from-margins-to-centre-stage-in-four-years-5344148/

Punjab University: Students for Society journeys from margins to centre stage in four years

The student group has been known among students for holding plays, debates and open general body meetings inside the campus on populist issues. But it has also remained aloof from other groups and never sought votes in an alliance like other groups.

Punjab University: Students for Society journeys from margins to centre stage in four years
SFS had started as a discussion group of 10-12 students belonging to different students in 2010 and since then has expressed its opinion on every major issue – both political and student-related – through statements and campaigns at the university. (File photo)

For the past four years, the Left-leaning Students for Society (SFS) party has remained a pressure group at Panjab University with its leaders and supporters behind every major protest at the varsity. More than 40 students affiliated to the group were arrested last year for unprecedented violence on the campus against the fee hike. Known for its confrontational attitude over issues inside the university, the group on Thursday finally managed to turn its popularity into votes.

SFS’s only candidate Kanu Priya in the Campus Student Council Polls 2018 on Thursday not only managed to clinch the top post in the student’s body but also created history by becoming the first woman who will head the Campus Student Council. SFS had never won an election before and lost the polls for the presidential post in the past two years by a close margin. “It has been a consistent effort of trust-building with students for past so many years that has finally paid off,” said Aman Deep Caur, who was SFS’s first presidential candidate in 2014.

“It is a great moment especially because of the timing as the new Vice-Chancellor who has just come clearly stands with the ideology of the current regime. It is, in fact, a bigger victory as well as a challenge for the SFS because the ABVP has got 2,000 votes and are in the second position. It remains to be seen how the authorities on the campus respond to this change.”

SFS had started as a discussion group of 10-12 students belonging to different students in 2010 and since then has expressed its opinion on every major issue – both political and student-related – through statements and campaigns at the university. The party became a mass group in 2012 with more interest in student issues and has remained in the news for its protests against sexual harassment on the campus, unhygienic diet in the hostels and four-wheelers inside the campus. Since last year, the group has gained prominence on the lines of Leftist groups at Jawaharlal Nehru University after PU witnessed a major violence during a protest against the fee hike. The group was in news last year also for its attempt to bring activist Seema Azad to the campus.

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SFS contested the election in 2014 for the post of president but did not win in its first foray into student polls. The group boycotted the elections in 2015. It emerged third in the last elections in 2016, clinching 2,494 votes. Last year, the group lost the presidential post by 611 votes. On Thursday, its margin of victory was 719 votes.

“This is a historic event in the university and basically an outcome of creating that ground for ideas like gender equality and freedom of speech. The verdict is clear that the students have chosen progressive politics and it should be seen as a message by the government, including the Vice Chancellor and MHRD. It is a ray of hope against the kind of politics we are witnessing right now in the country,” said SFS president Damanpreet Singh.

The student group has always had the Leftist tag attached to it but its leaders say that it does not have any affiliation to any mainstream political party apart from being only an independent students group with an opinion which may be similar to the Leftists. “We are not shy of the tag. It is a good thing but we are not attached to any political party in the traditional sense,” said Damanpreet.

The student group has been known among students for holding plays, debates and open general body meetings inside the campus on populist issues. But it has also remained aloof from other groups and never sought votes in an alliance like other groups. With Wednesday’s verdict bringing in candidates of different ideologies in campus student council on all the posts, how its presidential candidate will perform in the official position remains to be seen. “We have always believed in student participation in decision making. It will be the same procedure again. There is no question of a rigid stand on anything. The president has been chosen by the students only because of that approach. We will maintain that,” said Harman Deep, the SFS spokesperson.