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Enlightenment Eludes Banaras Hindu University

THE prestigious Banaras Hindu University (BHU) witnessed violent protests recently. Though the students have been protesting since September 21 over alleged molestation of a female student on her way to her hostel by two motorcycle-borne men, the protest turned violent as the BHU authorities failed to take action against the culprits. The students complain that that the university officials have done little to protect female students who face sexual harassment on the campus. The female students wanted to meet vice chancellor G C Tripathi to urge upon him to take action.  A female student had been molested while the security guards watched mutely. The guards blamed the girl for walking alone to hostel ‘late in the evening’. The hostel warden blamed the girl for the same reason. The security guards failed to do their job and instead of taking the blame they blamed the girl. The warden, instead of sympathizing with and supporting the girl, blamed her. So the female students wanted to meet the VC to urge him to intervene. However, the security not only prevented them from meeting the VC but called in police to disperse them. The policemen resorted to lathi charge in which a number of students were injured.

How are girls to feel safe if the security guards, the hostel wardens and the VC are not willing to protect them? The protection of life and dignity of students living on the campus is directly their responsibility. Protection of women from molestation and rape is a concern throughout the country. The BHU authorities grossly failed in providing their female students the protection; and on the top of that they got police to beat them mercilessly for mounting a protest. The violent situation could have been avoided had the VC met them and taken steps to address their concerns over their safety. The victim blaming by the university authorities shows the dominance of the patriarchal attitude which always blames the woman for the crime committed against her.  The image of the BHU as an excellent university has taken a hit: academic excellence alone is not the measure of greatness of a university. If the university has an anachronistic attitude to question of freedom of movement of women, it has no right to claim itself to be advanced and modern.

Would the VC have still refused to get out of his bed at midnight if his daughter were molested? He would have jumped out of his bed, just as the father of the girl who became a victim of stalking on the Chandigarh streets one recent night did.  He came with his daughter to register a case against the alleged stalkers. The VC should have acted like a father to the victim girl. He should have accompanied her to the police station and filed a case of sexual harassment. The police should have been going after the molesters. But instead they all went after the girl and the other girls who felt concerned about their dignity and gathered and marched in protest.  The BHU authorities in  a statement chose to give a political colour to the agitation of students saying that the dharna by the students just a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit was ‘politically motivated’ to malign the image of the university. And instead of going after the molesters, the police have registered a case of violence against 1,000 students!

The Uttar Pradesh administration has woken up belatedly and directed the BHU authorities to take necessary measures for the security of girl students on the campus. The administration has asked the BHU to form a committee in accordance with the Supreme Court directives in the Vishakha case, besides setting up proper CCTV network, especially in the vicinity of girl hostels and deployment of female security guards. The governor of UP as the chancellor of the university should convey a strong message to the vice chancellor of BHU that his refusal to come out to listen to and help the victim girl student had brought a bad name to the office of the vice chancellor and the university as an institution. The VC should be censured for not playing the role of the father of every student. The Yogi government must ask the Varanasi police to file a chargesheet against the molesters based on the victim girl’s statement and other evidence and track them down. And lastly, the VC and the hostel wardens should not misuse the opportunity to impose even more severe restrictions on the movement of the girls staying in hostels. That would be the victory of patriarchy, not of women.

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