Benaras is home to many things: The banks of the Assi, where Shah Jahan’s son Dara Shikoh is said to have sat and wondered how glorious the Upanishads would sound in Persian. Sarnath, its weave, the twinkling Dashashwamedh ghat, and the famous Manikarnika, that is always alight and serves as a quick tutorial on life and its ephemerality.
Banaras Hindu University too is about what Benaras represents. BHU, its symbolism exemplified by its founder, Madan Mohan Malviya, has never been a centre for protest. “We are not JNU” is something you hear regularly. The H in BHU as the M in AMU convey adequately the other debate BHU wedged itself in in troubled times in the United Provinces.
The police action in BHU is deplorable. The sight of policemen rushing into a campus violates the idea of what a university should be in the extreme. But what may be worthwhile, an obverse to what Isaac Newton offered, is to look at the significance of the “action” that caused this “reaction”. Something was threatening enough — in the specific geographic, social, political context of BHU — about unarmed university girls protesting and holding up hand-written posters for their MP, also the PM, to see.
For long, it has been clear that something is up in UP, with its women in particular. News reports apart, Operation Majnu in Meerut, then films like Bunty aur Babli, Masaan, hinted at a restlessness among girls in UP — at being allowed to be teachers or doctors but also good wives of suitable caste and co-religionists.
The scene for strife has been mostly been West UP, with girls whizzing around on two-wheelers, meeting who they want, studying the courses they want to, in the anonymity of their scarves and sleeves. The desire to exercise complete and total control over them has raised eyebrows as the rapidly rising literacy has impacted women populations and the mobile, two-wheeler and jeans have elicited fatwas, regulations and cries of “gau, bahu” and “beti bachao”.
There was more clarity when BJP president, Amit Shah, announced “anti-Romeo” squads as part of a manifesto designed to draw “parents” into their fold. Student elections and libraries as spaces for thoughts other than those inculcated by parents and aunts and uncles have been curbed in UP for long. AMU has separate libraries, timings for girls and boys and BHU, especially, has pushed for no Wi-Fi (how can the new VC risk Wi-Fi, as girls would watch porn). Meat-eating must be curbed and early bedtimes enforced. The VC, who defended RSS ideas, was keen to stamp out any trouble in BHU.
Talk of Young India apart, the political campaign, especially the last one, was one for the hearts and minds of moms and dads, arguing against the right of girls and boys to decide who they wanted to break bread or see a film with, or god forbid, stroll in the Company Park with.
So while Dimple Yadav, spoke of the importance of girls and boys making their own choices (she has had an inter-caste marriage and speaks about it) when she chose to make it a political point, it was brushed aside as Adityanath was seen as the BJP’s interpretation of the verdict. The state was handed over to the founder of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, whose views on women and them marrying persons outside the caste and, of course, religion, are well known.
So, conservative mores are now firmly state policy in UP.
It is in this context that the coming-out by the girls of BHU is critical and threatens more and mores. For conservatives, this needs to be nipped in the bud. There is no students union at BHU. This campus is not JNU, DU, IIT Mumbai, Chennai, TISS or HCU and that is why, it’s a straw in the wind which cannot be allowed to fly. Girls, bahu-betis of the future, shouting — in a tightly controlled world like BHU — has political and social ramifications that eventually challenges ideas now “official” in UP: Food, cohabiting, loving or studying.
The battle for the parental mind versus those of the girls and boys is on. BHU, the unusual suspect in this, has just decided to stand up and be counted.