The ongoing protest at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), over an alleged incident of sexual harassment, took a violent turn late on Saturday night as several students, mostly girls, were injured in a police lathicharge. At least four girls are reported to have suffered head injuries.
In purported videos of the incident, policemen are seen trying to enter a girls’ hostel and beating up the inmates. Students alleged that they were dragged out of their hostels and manhandled by policemen, in the absence of women personnel. They claimed that police lobbed teargas shells and fired rubber pellets.
According to sources, violence erupted at about 11 pm after some students were barred from meeting Vice Chancellor G C Tripathi at his residence. Students alleged that two professors, who are on the proctorial board, hit them with sticks. This was followed by a police lathicharge at the BHU Lanka gate, where girl students have been protesting since Thursday night.
On Thursday evening, an Arts Faculty student was allegedly harassed by three men on a motorcycle inside the campus while she was returning to her hostel. The student alleged that her warden, instead of taking up the issue with her superiors, asked her why was she was returning so late. The incident triggered protests by students over the lack of safety and alleged “victim shaming”.
Alleging inaction by the university administration, some students sought to meet the V-C on Saturday night. As news of the lathicharge spread, some students reportedly tried to break the lock outside the Triveni Women’s Hostel. They were allegedly beaten up by the police. The men’s hostels were also reportedly targeted by the police. Two journalists who were covering the incident were also injured. At least three vehicles were torched as the violence spiralled post-midnight.
“Police attacked all the female students sitting on dharna at the BHU main gate. There was chaos. They entered boys’ hostels and beat us up. We pelted stones in self-defence. Police used pellet guns, which left many students injured,” alleged Abhisheel, a law student.
But BHU spokesperson Rajesh Singh denied reports of a lathicharge. “A group of students tried to enter the V-C lodge at midnight. Security personnel dispersed them,” he said. However, Circle Officer, Sadar, Nivesh Katiyar admitted that the police used force and fired rubber pellets to disperse the students. He said the tension began at about 10.30 pm, when a group of students staged a protest outside the V-C’s residence. He claimed that as the students pelted stones, the policemen deployed outside the V-C’s residence forced them to leave.
“A few minutes later, more students arrived and began throwing stones,” said Katiyar, adding that the police personnel were targeted. He claimed that students set ablaze four vehicles, of which three belonged to the police, and damaged 15 other vehicles. Sub-Inspector Mahesh Mishra, in-charge of BHU’s police outpost, claimed that students threw petrol bombs from the terrace of their hostels.
Varanasi SSP Ram Krishna Bhardwaj said they had not received any complaints of students being injured. “A few policemen were injured in the incident. An FIR has been registered. Nobody has been arrested and the situation is under control,” he said. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath today sought a report from Varanasi Divisional Commissioner Nitin Gokarn. Speaking to The Indian Express, Gokarn said he has started an investigation. Chief Secretary Rajiv Kumar has directed Gokarn and ADG (Varanasi Zone) Vishwajit Mahapatra to submit a joint report.
Speaking to a TV news channel today, Vice-Chancellor Tripathi alleged that “outsiders” were involved. “I do not know who they are and which party they belong to,” he said. In a statement on Sunday night, the BHU administration claimed that some rowdy elements surrounded the V-C’s residence and threw stones. They also pelted stones and petrol bombs on proctorial board members, it said. As the situation worsened, the university sought the help of the police, said the statement.
A day after the violence, the BHU administration cut off water and power supply to the hostels on Sunday. Denying reports that students had been told to vacate the hostels, the BHU spokesperson said: “Earlier the mid-semester break was scheduled for September 28. That date has been advanced to September 25. Academic work will remain suspended till October 1, and October 2 is already a holiday,” he said.
But students alleged that all the inmates of women’s hostels were warned that they would have to vacate their rooms by 4 pm Sunday, failing which they would be forced out. They claimed that this was only one of the many times that the university had discriminated on the basis of gender.
In a petition filed before the Supreme Court last year, eight girls, who were suspended for staging a dharna, had accused the university of following different sets of rules. According to them, only vegetarian food was served in their hostels, even as the men’s hostels were allowed non-vegetarian food. They had also complained of early curfew timings, not being allowed to install Wifi/LAN to access internet, and not being allowed to participate in any form of dharnas, protests and agitations.
“The terror on the campus has scared our parents. The university has cut off power supply. So we have to leave… I can’t forget the sight of the lathicharge and violence… I have never seen something like this,” said Ritika, a student from Bihar. Meanwhile, hundreds of students staged a road blockade on Sunday to protest against last night’s violence. Nearly 1,500 policemen, including PAC personnel, have been deployed in and around the campus to maintain law and order.
The police have lodged an FIR against unidentified students under IPC sections 147 (rioting), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 307 (attempt to murder), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty), 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc). Prohibitory orders under Section 144 have been imposed on the campus.