BHU’s anger pours out onto the streets

The women students were disillusioned by the deep-rooted institutional patriarchy.

WrittenBy:Sahla Nechiyil
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While Banaras Hindu University that houses nearly 40,000 students has been witness to several isolated protests, it had never witnessed an outrage as those witnessed by the Film and Television Institute of India, Hyderabad Central University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, until September 22.

The September 22 protest began after an alleged incident of molestation on campus. The subsequent failure of the administration to act against the men who attacked the girl escalated into one of the biggest student movements that BHU has witnessed so far. Students protested irrespective of the fact they would be in violation of the affidavit which they sign every year agreeing never to participate in any protests against the university administration.

This happened due to continuous degradation of the campus environment over the last several months with several cases of eve-teasing, sexual harassment and threats of violence against professors being reported. While the BHU administration has been able to pacify earlier protests with verbal promises, this time, students were demanding a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor. 

A large number of female students assembled at BHU’s Lanka gate on Friday and staged a sit-in protest. They blocked the entry to the campus demanding strict action against the accused. In her complaint, the victim said that she was groped by two men on a bike who attempted to put their hands inside her clothes. The incident took place while she was on her way from her department to the hostel, approximately 100 meters away from the security post.

Students’ demands

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Students, who have been protesting against the inaction of the administration, have demanded setting up of street lights on campus and more hostel space. In their list of demands, they have stated that these are the basic infrastructure facilities that the authorities need to ensure. Students, more importantly, have demanded ‘gender sensitisation of administrative staff and faculty’.

The reason for such a demand was the university administration’s reaction to the students who had approached the Proctor’s office to file a complaint. After dropping off their friend at the hostel, the survivor’s friends went to the guard to lodge a complaint. “Why do you go out after 6 pm and invite molesters?” the guard had asked.

There have been several incidences that have kept BHU in news. Two weeks ago, a BHU student was asked to leave the hostel for allegedly being a homosexual. Apparently, BHU rule book states lesbian students won’t be allowed to stay in hostels.

Two months before that 11 students of Mahila Maha Vidyalaya, the women’s college, wrote a  letter to the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports alleging sexual harassment by the National Service Scheme program officer Rajeev Mishra.

Prior to that the BHU Vice-Chancellor, Girish Chand Tripathi, was in news  for stating that “the late night studies of girls are immoral”. Tripathi was responding to the girls’ demand for equal access to the library. All these instances point at the deep-rooted institutional patriarchy and the need for gender sensitisation among staff and faculty.

The students protesting at BHU gate have also demanded the ‘formation of Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment’. According to UGC regulation 2016, every university is supposed to have GSCASH, a fully autonomous body, to deal with sexual harassment cases. However, BHU now has recently replaced GSCASH with an Internal Sexual Harassment Committee. Despite being in violation of the UGC guidelines, Tripathi said that they are not violating any guidelines as the internal sexual harassment cell in BHU has been ‘very active’ in resolving issues.

Police crackdown on protesters

The two days peaceful sit-in protest turned violent on Saturday night as police lathi-charged students at midnight. The crackdown came  hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended his two-day visit to Varanasi, his Lok Sabha constituency.

By Sunday morning, several videos had surfaced on social media showing male police personnel and Provincial Armed Constabulary officers beating up girls and barging into the girls’ hostels. Several students were hospitalised with serious injuries.

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“In resistance, girls started pelting stones against police. Motorbikes were set on fire. Tear gas was used in the boys’ hostels and the students were beaten up by lathis,” said an MA student, on condition of anonymity.

What VC says

The Vice Chancellor Girish Chandra Tripathi alleged that barring a few protesters, others were outsiders and the movement was politically motivated to create a sensation before PM Modi’s visit to his constituency.

When asked about why he didn’t address the concerns of the students, Tripathi said, “I am always ready to talk to the girls and I had even gone to the hostel intended to have a talk with the girls. But, I had to return because the mob was violent and my safety was at stake.”

“What happened to the girl is unfortunate. As the Vice-Chancellor of the university, I take the moral responsibility. Despite the large size of the BHU campus, I am willing to address the genuine problems of the students. I have already assured them to set CCTV cameras in the campus,” Tripathi added.

However, the university has been closed till October 2 and students were made to leave hostels. Students from various universities and colleges across India have protesting to express solidarity with BHU students.


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