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We the women students of Banaras Hindu University

We are asking for basic freedoms. We demand institutional reform.

Written by Neha Yadav | Updated: October 2, 2017 8:18 am
bhu, bhu students protest, bhu vc, Banaras Hindu University, bhu women safety, bhu sexual harassment, Sir Sunderlal Hospital, bhu vc G C Tripathi, o p upadhyay, BHU news, Latest news, indian express Outside Banaras Hindu University. (Express Photo by Anand Singh/File)

A century after it was established, Banaras Hindu University is in the midst of a turmoil quite unique to its history. The reason for the current outrage cannot be simply understood through an instance of “eve teasing”. Instead, the ferment is a culmination of decades of festering resentment.

Governments came and went in the past, but the dominant ideology of “manuvaad” was never challenged on a campus where free thought and women’s rights were trampled upon. It was anger against this continued culture of suppression that was transformed into a massive march on the streets of Varanasi.

The idea was simple — students will organise a peaceful march to the office of the vice-chancellor and present their legitimate demands to the concerned authorities. At least that was the intention. The unprovoked and unilateral lathi charge on students and accompanying faculty members took us all by surprise.

The disproportionate response by the university authorities also shows why the outrage on the BHU campus goes much beyond the purported incident of sexual harassment. Authorities recognise that students are out on the streets to undo decades of attempts to stifle new, different, modern ideas. The energy on the streets bears witness to how long these ideas have been held captive at BHU, through intimidation and coercion. Students have been reminded to maintain order and discipline in times of interviews and threatened with summary expulsion. Let us not underestimate the force of the rage that it takes for students to come out and protest in the face of such repression. Any hope that the recent public attention would put an end to such practices in BHU remains yet unfulfilled.

The aakrosh (anger) goes wider. Only days before the incident, news began to trickle in that officials were exercising their discretion — a short-hand for their caste prejudices — in making appointments to the new vacancies that had come up on campus. No due diligence was followed in making such appointments and when students belonging to the depressed classes decided to voice their anguish at such practices, they were slapped with threats of expulsion. Students remained undeterred by such intimidation and continued their protests for two months and not only questioned the unconstitutional methods deployed for campus appointments but also included demands for longer opening hours for the university library.

The list of campus injustices is much longer. Take, for instance, deans of the zoology and arts departments and professors in the medical and geography departments who have been accused of harassment/molestation. O.P. Upadhyay, acting superintendent of Sir Sundarlal Hospital MS has been indicted for sexual assault. These men apparently enjoy impunity. Excesses have been committed over the past year and with no legitimate avenue to voice their concerns, students in these departments were silent up until this point.

Discriminatory practices on gendered lines are routine in BHU. Women students are not allowed to eat non-vegetarian food in their mess. They are not allowed to use mobile phones after 10 pm. Access to the internet in hostels has been strictly prohibited. They are told short dresses are against university customs. But do such customs apply to the male students on campus? Of course not. There are curfews in the main campus which apply only to female students. Women students are told that the campus is unsafe for them after 10 pm — are these looming threats on campus uninterested in male students? When female students complain against the quality of food and hygiene why does the VC ignore such legitimate concerns?

Students unions on campuses are supposed to voice our concerns, be our representatives to ensure an environment of mutual cooperation. But what is to be expected from a VC who is more concerned with being noticed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi than with the students whose lives he has been entrusted with? A VC who has no time for a vibrant students’ union for fear of inviting the ire of the powers-that-be.

Students’ unions often get bad press — we are told students should study, not do politics. But what does doing politics really mean? On a campus where research scholars are not awarded their full HRA or there are deliberate delays in sanctioning UGC-mandated hostel facilities to research students, would highlighting such misdeeds be considered “political”? On a campus where the VC denies us our scholarships by charging that this money is funnelled to finance the dowry for women scholars, is it not our responsibility to be political?

The attack on students is yet to be registered by the local police; we have been forced to add another demand — that an immediate FIR is registered against the culprits. But then, what assurance can we expect from an extremely compliant police force. Only recently, a student was dragged out of the lecture hall in the presence of a professor and beaten up mercilessly in his hostel room. The police have refused to file a FIR against the goons who did this. Campus security, indeed!

And what about campus lighting and CCTV? Where does all the money for infrastructural development go? How do campus audits repeatedly fail to register the crumbling facilities in the science labs where students have been working and “trained” in the absence of the most basic apparatus? The discrimination on campus can be ended by acknowledging, first, how these prejudices have been engendered in quotidian practices.

The point is not merely to remove the existing VC, who must be asked to leave, but to undertake an institutional overhaul. We are asking for basic things — that the charter and constitution of the university is implemented in letter and spirit, that women are made safe on campus, not made its captive, and their voices are emboldened through a representative, functional and democratically elected students’ union.

The writer, 23, is an MSc student at Banaras Hindu University. The article was translated from Hindi by Aakash Joshi.

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  1. V
    Oct 3, 2017 at 8:48 am
    Based on disc on APN. Eve teasing happened 630 7pm, girl went back to hostel, complaint to warden ( warden rsponsible only within hostel), comp to proctor. As the regn no of culprits bike was not known, they were reluctant to advise going to police but ultimately agreed. 2 male students went to PS at 11pm. Not the victim, not the girl students leaders. The students failed to file complaint as police asked the name of victim and went back. What freedom Neha Yadav is talking, U didn't go to PS, U only want politics. Complaint made next day noon with hardly any clues. U didn't go to police but invite Jnu goondas. Did you really wanted to complain eve teasing or exploiting it?
    1. J
      Oct 3, 2017 at 8:08 am
      Now it is clear that IE has become Islamic Express and has been taken over by Islamist Jihadi, Rapist Christians and intellectual so called Elite English speaking liberal commies and this dynamite combo is the reason you see so much hate and venom against Hindus in Islamic Express. Lets talk about this article. First it starts with a LIE. Neha Yadav claims they wanted to go to VC's office and you were lathicharged. You are lying. You went to VC's house and you stage managed the violence so that you can then blame the police. No one attacks non-violent protesters. But you were not non-violent. Secondly, She talks about appointments. Well it is the prerogative of the Administration and VC to appoint people. You as a student have no role in appointing your own deans else it is a double jeopardy. You are the student and you decide on who you want to be appointed? Also, BHU gets subsidy so we the tax payers are paying for your education. Instead of thankful you are bashful and thankless.
      1. J
        Oct 3, 2017 at 8:15 am
        Neha Yadav, when you stay in a hostel where you are being subsidized by the tax payers like us, you have to follow the procedures. This is a free country. Just like your have a freedom of speech you also have a freedom to stay outside campus and keep your cell phone on all 24 hours and no need to turn it off at 10pm. Talking about internet why should BHU hostel provide you internet in the first place. If you can afford it, buy your own internet service on your cell phones or use it as a hot spot. So you want every thing for free paid by the tax payers and you dont want to follow the rules and procedures but yet you want to blame. Who get Scholorships is not your job so you cannot claim that you need it you deserve it and if you cannot get it you will use force to malign the VC. And the money for infrastructure goes into paying for morons like you. Enough is enough. Kick all these students out of Subsidy and let them pay full fees, stay outside not in subsidized hostel and complain
      2. S
        Oct 3, 2017 at 6:43 am
        Our media is foreign controlled let not our youth be made westernized and follow the West blindly. Let not stone-age traditions of dating, wine drinking, etc. permeate our culture. Our example is not Sunny Leone but Gautama Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, etc. Let us just take the best of all stay secular yet crush the terrorists and not let the pseudo-westernized plants to try to corrupt our system. The Punjabi-Jewish infected Bollywood is already gone. Respect your elders
        1. P
          Proud Bhakt
          Oct 3, 2017 at 2:39 am
          This is the 1st time i am hearing of a Hindu girl wanting to have non-veg food. Why are girls of BHU so desperate to eat non-veg food ? . Are BHU girls even real hindus ? No real, pious and sanskari Girl of Sanatan Dharma will ever desire to have non-veg food. It leads to immoral, Feminist , anti-national , leftist-liberal thoughts which women cannot handle . Also why do you want to use mobile after 10 PM ? obviously for s.ex.ting with some anti-national boy . You should be asleep by 10PM or studying hard for exams. Shame on all the girls of BHU. They should all be suspended.
          1. A
            Oct 3, 2017 at 2:09 am
            She will be attacked in social media, one reason- her surname which matters a lot in UP, and secondly her feminist issues she is standing for. Patriarchal setup in the Hindi heartland has to understand that you cant holdback the young generation. Girls will surely break the glass ceiling, the time has come.
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