The tenure of Banaras Hindu University Vice-Chancellor, Girish Chandra Tripathi, ends on November 27 this year. Given his heavy-handed mis-management of the campus unrest sparked by the administration’s lack of sensitive response to a molestation case, however, he needs to go earlier. Tripathi must take a cue from BHU Chief Proctor, O.N. Singh, who has quit his post citing moral grounds after a probe instituted by the government blamed the university authorities for the incidents in the campus.
The unrest at BHU calls for institutional remedies and a more sensitive leadership. Tripathi’s words and actions betray a deeply conservative and authoritarian mindset incapable of addressing the concerns of a changing campus. He has refused to accept that administrative indifference fuelled the students’ protests which then brought on the completely unwarranted police lathi charge last Saturday. In an interview to this newspaper, Tripathi dismissed the alleged molestation of the girl as “eve-teasing”, labelled the protestors as “not committed to the nation” and warned that he will shut down hostels and the campus because of student “netagiri”. During his tenure, he has obdurately ignored issues of gender discrimination, the different rules for male and female students. Tripathi’s evident shortcomings as an administrator have now been compounded by his reported push to appoint an individual indicted for sexual harassment to a crucial administrative position in the varsity, a day before the freeze on recruitment under his watch kicks in. The government must immediately put the appointment on hold and also review all other actions ordered by the V-C. The FIR against nearly a thousand students must be withdrawn and their concerns — ranging from personal security to the hostel menu — addressed. The varsity must remove all regulations that discriminate on gender grounds.
There is a deeper churn evident in the events in BHU. More and more girls are opting for higher studies and parents are willing to let them travel to pursue their education: As this paper reported, BHU has seen a 131 per cent increase over 10 years in the number of girls seeking admission. These girls are unwilling to abide by old social restraints and mores. Parental encouragement to pursue their dreams and access to personal transport and technology-enabled communication have emboldened them to insist on gender equality and agency on campus. Conservative anxieties centred on women have expectedly come to the fore in reaction to these changes. Restive campuses have historically reflected deeper changes in the society, sometimes even leading movements for change. The establishment cannot ignore the rumbles of change on campus. It must respond to them. But first the V-C must go.