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Crackdown On Students

Crackdown On Students

The highly esteemed institute of higher studies in the country, the 101-year-old Banaras Hindu University (BHU), has left the nation shell-shocked with reports of discrimination, harassment and violence when a protest of girl-students against sexual harassment on campus and their bid to meet the Vice Chancellor was met with lathi-charge by the police injuring many students, ladies and journalists. The brazen gender discrimination, suppression of dissent, cultural and moral policing that control free thought, different sets of rules for girls and boys that restrict the former’s movement, food and dress, administration’s apathy and police action have all exposed the ugly underbelly of BHU’s current administration!

BHU today boils decrying the disgrace being brought upon this premier public central University established in 1916 by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, an eminent educationist-politician, as a centre of higher learning where broad liberal values, free spirit of enquiry, equality and fraternity among fellow human beings are promoted. We have seen the once serene campus of BHU turning into a battle field between its protesting girls-students and the lathi-wielding police. We’ve also listened to the aggrieved girls in news channels.  Rajdeep Sardesai of India Today interviewing a group of aggrieved girls has laid bare some bitter truths: that BHU prohibits free thought, denies dissent, encroaches on students’ rights, deprives them of WiFi, internet connection and access to the cyber library, brazenly discriminates girls from boys with regard to food, facilities and freedom of movements, imposes unjustified moral policing and denies transparency; worst still, it supports irrational conservatism.

Interestingly while the Vice Chancellor Girish Chandra Tripathi  was  flaunting his RSS affiliation, one of the panellists – an alumni of BHU – on Rajdeep’s show claimed to be visiting  the varsity every year yet not in the know of the sordid state of things therein. It was Manish Sharma, a member of the Action Committee that has been formed for BHU and other universities, who read out from an RTI answer given by BHU, who pointed out the core issue: Gender discrimination and conservatism. Addressing these two issues, Sharma opined that “Girls are no objects; they are human beings with equal rights to life, dignity, welfare and safety.  Just one stream of thought, controlling all other thoughts and not allowing free flow of different views is not acceptable in a university.”  In few words, he spoke much on the symptoms of the disease that ails today’s BHU.

It’s been alleged that ever since the appointment of GC Tripathi as VC in 2014, the university has been a hotbed for protests over gender-based discrimination. Anger has been simmering among the girl-students who have been silently bearing the brunt of unfair discrimination that deny them their basic human rights of freedom, dignity, equality and safety. 

Two years back, the students asked to open the cyber library 24 hours (It used to be open for 24 hours, but when VC changed, he changed the rules too). The girls of the Mahila Maha Vidyalay were not allowed to go to Central library after 8pm and their faculty library closed at 5pm. They were not allowed to go out after 8pm despite the importance of work, while boys are allowed to go anywhere anytime in BHU. The girls are not allowed non-veg food in hostel mess whereas boys are served non-veg in their hostels. The girls are not allowed to use phone after 10pm, wear shorts even in hostel, or to participate in protests and have to submit an affidavit for the same while registration. Meanwhile, BHU boys have no such restrictions.

The girls allege that three late entries result in a call to the student’s parents and repeated flouting of norms leads to being blacklisted during the annual hostel allotment. “None of this is written down as rules. But we go through this, feeling dirty, as if we have committed a sin by being late, as if we were roaming with boys and doing dirty things. The male guards who note down our timings scold us if we are late by a few minutes,” laments a student.

The students complain of the laid back attitude of the administration in curbing the sexual harassment on campus. The victim of the recent harassment complained that when she was returning to her hostel from her department at around 6:20 pm, three bike-borne men came from behind and molested her and sped away. Her cry for help was ignored by the security guards who were but a few metres away from her. Later when she approached the guards along with her hostel mates, they allegedly responded with misogynist remarks and snubbed her for not being careful while moving alone in the dark. The student also alleged that when she informed the hostel warden about the incident she was blamed and her character was questioned.

“What happened on September 21 was before 7 pm. Here the victim was flouting no rule. All we are asking is at least provide us security till 8 pm. They should install lights in dark areas and deploy female guards,” one of the protesting girls said.

It’s unimaginable that the VC of a University had no guts or grace to come out and listen to the grievances of over 200 unarmed peacefully protesting girl-students of his institution. While Tripathi trivialized the incident as just eve teasing and said “If we listen to every girl, we won’t be able to run university”, he seems to have no answers on why female students were lathi charged by male cops.

However, i t was heartening to see some boys supporting the cause of women’s safety and leading the protests. Political parties and students’ bodies strongly condemned the despicable police action on girl-students. They questioned the stringent curfew timings, allegations of discrimination in hostel menu, the repeated complaints of harassment and the unwritten rule that prohibits participation in any protests and the unequal treatment of female students in BHU.

F airness demands that the BHU administration do justice to the aggrieved girls by removing all discriminatory mechanisms imposed on them and take measures to ensure their safety in the campus. It’s high time to redeem BHU from its present morass by returning to the liberal thoughts and democratic values taught by its great founder Mahamana Malaviya: “ This University will be a denominational institution but not a sectarian one. It will not promote narrow sectarianism but a broad liberation of mind and a religious spirit which will promote brotherly feeling between man and man.” May Tagore’s prayer to make India a “heaven of freedom” where “knowledge is free” of restrictions based on gender, superstitions, caste and race come true!

(Published on 03rd October 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 40)