The story of protesting girl students of Banaras Hindu University has been told over and over again over the last few days. How they staged a dharna outside the Triveni hostel against incidents of sexual harassment and hooliganism that have become rampant. When the authorities ignored them, they decided to stage their protest at BHU’s main entrance, popularly known as ‘Singhadwar,” which opens into the Lanka area of the city. It is important to understand BHU’s geographical context to understand the social norms that define it. The university is surrounded by several small towns and villages, such as Chhittupur, Seer, Susuwahi and Karaundi. Most students come from Eastern Uttar Pradesh, or Poorvanchal, where roots of masculinity and feudalism are deeply entrenched. A defining feature of this character is to be controlling towards the female sex – this also means that sexual abuse and violence by men is taken for granted because it is supposedly sanctioned by social norms.
In masculine and feudal societies, as we all know, women are often reduced to mere playthings. If a girl has a problem, she must not protest as the male member of the society is supposed to take care of her and her complaints. A Campus, BHU, which congratulates itself for its top ranking in the score-sheet of national universities, actually has a terrible score-card in the matter of liberty and equality of girl students of the campus. How shameful an affair is this?
During the protest the University administration first tried to divert the issue by sending several students near the ‘dharna’ site and asked them to raise slogans against the protesting students and also verbally abuse them so as to scare them a bit. It seems the University administration wanted the two groups to clash so that the matter could snowball and the real issue forgotten.
When this idea failed, various officials of BHU as well as the state government were sent to negotiate with the students, but they ended up questioning the need for girl students to have the kind of freedom they were demanding. These officials began to preach morality to the girls, which was completely outside their remit. That is why the protestors became even tougher and demanded that the Vice-Chancellor come to the dharna site for talks.
All through the weekend, police personnel were deployed in front of the New Vishwanath Temple inside the campus to prevent any untoward incidents from taking place. Prime Minister Modi, who was visiting his constituency, Varanasi, was forced to change the route of his travel from ‘Singhadwar’, where the students were protesting and demanding justice against the molesters, to the Durga temple just one km away.
The man who launched the slogans of ‘Beti Bachao/Beti Padhao’ and ‘Selfie with Daughter’ neglected these daughters of India. At night some right-wing students spread the rumour that Communist students had replaced the traditional University flag with a red flag on top of the BHU main gate and that the idol of Mahamana Madan Mohan Malviya has been defaced. But this was completely untrue. Actually such rumours are being spread to dilute the moral integrity of the movement so that right-wing students can merge the real issue of molestation into the debate of nationalism, for which they have been planning right from the first hour.
BHU violence: Incident was an act of ‘Eve-teasing, not molestation’, says University Chief Proctor’s report
Even after 36 hours had passed, by Saturday, the Vice-Chancellor did not come to meet the girl students. He said he would not come to the protest site, but meet a few female students in their respective hostels only and particularly in the absence of any media. After 8 pm, the numbers of security personnel was increased, and some students began to protest and raise slogans outside Cochin House, that is the residence of the Vice-Chancellor. The police personnel started beating up the students, the situation got out of hand and the police began thrashing those protesting outside ‘Singhadwar’.
You can see the police action in a video that has gone viral. The lathi-charge of the police, chasing the girl students inside Mahila Mahavidyalaya premises and beating them up. In retaliation, some students started stone-pelting and an unruly mob of students torched some vehicles. The following day as well when a number of students from the Institute of Science were marching peacefully against the brutality of the administration, they were dispersed by police lathi-charging them. This made the students furious. But the University has now retaliated by ordering that students vacate their hostels; the Dussehra-Diwali holiday has been advanced.
But how is this possible within a few hours? Where should the students go suddenly? The electricity and water supply of the girl hostels has been stopped since midnight Saturday and the entrance gates locked so that the girls are compelled to leave the campus and no further agitation is possible.
How cheap is this mentality of the administration? Students are being treated as militants and habitual offenders. Perhaps this is the way through which the BJP government wants to promulgate its idea of pseudo-nationalism in the BHU campus also. The truth is that the campus has been unstable since November 2014 when a clash between Humanities and Science students took place and several students were permanently debarred from taking admission in BHU. But when G C Tripathi joined as Vice-Chancellor soon after, he not only quashed the cases against several students on ideological and caste lines, he also patronized several students who routinely indulged in bullying, violence, eve-teasing, extortion etc. There are a few right-wing students who obtained admission through “political approach” in various diploma courses and are being secured by the BHU administration.
Question is, how long can an academic institution can be run by police brutality and suppression by the Administration, when internal overhaul is the need of hour. There is no democracy, no equality, no liberty and above all no security in this campus. Is this what Mahamana had envisioned for this great campus which was created by him on lands gifted by farmers? At a time when there is a communication gap between the University administration and students, the teachings of Acharya Narendra Deo and Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan becomes more relevant who have glorified the history of this University by their great contributions.