On Tuesday, a member of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) executive council objected to a move by its Vice-Chancellor to regularise the appointment of Dr O P Upadhyay, who had been convicted of sexual harassment by a Fiji court, as Medical Superintendent of Sir Sunderlal Hospital on campus. It has now emerged that another member, a Padma Shri awardee, had resigned from the council two years ago in protest over “appointments” to institutions on the BHU campus.
Author and historian Michel Danino submitted his resignation from the council headed by V-C G C Tripathi in a letter to the higher education secretary on November 2, 2015. In an email explaining his reasons for resignation, which is a reply to a mail from Tripathi on November 3, Danino wrote: “…you will kindly understand that raising objections to Minutes of EC meetings is not such an easy exercise. When a simple matter — for instance the appointment of the head of a centre or an institute of the University — is recorded in the Minutes with pages of quasi-legal language, which never figured in the discussions, and when the actual discussions go unreported, it is difficult to raise a query…”
The latest objection this week over Upadhyay’s appointment comes against the backdrop of protests at BHU by students over an alleged incident of sexual assault by unidentified men on campus, leading to a police lathicharge on Saturday. The incident sparked widespread outrage with Giridhar Malviya, grandson of BHU founder Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, telling The Indian Express Thursday that he was “surprised” and “perturbed”.
The BHU’s executive council had met three days after the incident and the regularisation of Upadhyay’s appointment was one of several decisions discussed. Upadhyay was handed charge as medical superintendent in April 2016, two years after he was convicted by a magistrate court in Fiji in a case of sexual assault from 2012. Upadhyay denied the charges and claimed he was targeted for resisting an extortion attempt.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Danino, who was awarded the Padma Shri in May for his contribution in Literature and Education, said, “Yes, I had resigned from BHU’s executive council. My reasons are known to the HRD Ministry. I would not like to comment on this further.”
In his mail to the V-C, Danino, who became a member of the council in 2014, wrote: “Consider also the matter of the appointment of a Director to the Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University; it was recorded that ‘the consideration of the item be deferred and the agenda be brought back again with more details’ — but I remember no such decision being agreed upon in the meeting; the consensus reached at the meeting, in my memory, was of a different nature — that applications would be invited and precise academic criteria of competence spelt out or at least assessed.”
Danino, who authored ‘The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati’, is a guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar, and member of Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR).
His email reads: “…I readily concede that I have a poor understanding of administrative matters, so I am in no way trying to criticize the manner in which the EC meetings are conducted. However, I do not feel I can contribute positively to BHU’s administration, apart from the major reason of having too many other commitments weighing on me, as I explained to the Secretary for Higher Education, MHRD.”
Meanwhile, speaking about the assault on campus, Giridhar Malviya, a retired judge of the Allahabad High Court, said, “This type of thing has never happened in BHU earlier. I am pretty surprised…. I’m very perturbed. How could such an incident take place in the university? And certainly the guard who said that the girls should not have moved out, it is totally deplorable.”
Malviya said that as head of a search and selection committee in 2014, he had pushed for Tripathi’s candidature for the V-C post. Former director general of CSIR, SK Joshi, and former professor of IGNOU, H P Dikshit, were the other two members of the committee.
“I knew him (Tripathi) from before. I thought he will be the person who will make changes and (he had) all those values with which the university had been set up. I thought he would be the right person to take up the job,” said Malviya.
Malviya and Tripathi are associates from their time at the Seva Samiti, a registered society in Allahabad. It was presided by Malviya, when Tripathi was its secretary as well as manager of Sewa Samiti Vidyamandir Intermediate College run by the society.
Asked if he still felt that Tripathi was right for the V-C’s post, Malviya said, “I don’t know the whole facts. It will not be appropriate for me to comment unless I hear both sides for myself.”
The retired judge, however, said that he had expected Tripathi to reach out to him during the recent crisis but he did not. “I have been really expecting that he should come and talk to me about what happened. Because, as you said, he has been appointed by a committee of which I was the chairman and even otherwise when he comes of Allahabad, he meets me,” said Malviya.