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A Student Explains How Your Caste Defines Your Existence At Banaras Hindu University

Posted on July 31, 2015 in Campus Watch

By Anand Singh

I started at Banaras Hindu University in August 2011, with my mind bubbling with crass idealism and unbaked ignorance. Ignorance it was when in reply to a query posed by a senior about my name I happily quipped out my full name in earnest. That person fixed me with a meaningful look for a while before patting my back and assuring me that I must not worry about anything since I belonged to a his ‘caste’, a caste which is considered to hold the fort in the university. I did not give the incident a second thought back then, but was later exposed to the reality bit by bit.

abvp student protest banaras hindu university
Caste associations in the University matter more than any other fraternal bond. There are such associations of almost every caste in the university campus, existing either overtly or behind the curtains. Either way, such organisations (if I may use that word) engage in miniature internecine wars against every other rival group. I know it is difficult to get a hang of it, unless you are caught in the very midst of the raging melee.

The most prominent student body within the campus is ABVP, something I have stated in an earlier article I wrote. The Parishad, keeping in line with its ideological mentors ensconced in Nagpur, fill their ranks with students hailing mostly from ‘upper’ castes. With this skewed composition, the organisation rarely takes up matters which concern the students belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes. Holding dharnas and candle marches against the higher rungs of the University administration at petty issues is what they do. Hardly any student body picked up cudgels or held up placards for the beguiled faculty member of English department, a case I have mentioned below.

Speaking of the blatant casteism within the faculty echelons, a professor might favour you by going out of his/her way if you happen to belong to his caste. Or consider this, a professor used the following statement for a student in front of an entire class, “Accha thik hai, humne tumhe isiliye zyada number de diya kyun ki tum tribal ho” (I gave you extra marks just because you are a tribal). The student against whose person said invective was directed belongs to an ST community from Ranchi.

Admissions to the university are a magnificent affair, replete with all the heady stuff which promises a savoury political concoction. Anyway, it so happens to be that BHU is a central university and has to abide by the laws on reservation laid down by the union government. You can almost notice the resentment dripping from the faces of the candidates from general category, having been denied a seat in the much coveted hostels within the campus. Or if they have to settle for a paid seat in the college. Rishabh Mishra, an undergraduate student of political science at the faculty of Social Sciences remarks, and his remark is characteristic of the extant mood on the issue: “While I was appearing for my counselling for a seat in the faculty back in 2013, it came to my attention that certain seats in the reserved category had remained vacant. To fill in those vacant seats, candidates who had scored in the negative were called in. You can very well judge the sorry situation yourself.

Incidents such as the one I have quoted above are not alone. Discrimination assumes myriad forms and can be quite ugly at times.

The case involving a faculty member of the English department (she happened to belonged to the scheduled caste category) can be cited as a classical example of the way the university metes out swift and uncompromising retribution to its rebellious Dalit faculty members. The assistant professor was forced to take the matter up with National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), after the University administration refused to listen to her plea. The assistant professor alleged that she was being discriminated against while she was staying at faculty guest house until a residential space had been allotted to her on the campus. While a daily rent of Rs 50 was charged from other inmates, exactly the double of the sum was charged from her, which was raised to an exorbitant sum of Rs 200 after a period of three months. She was forcefully evicted from the guest house after a year, and several of her possessions were laid siege to. The battle between her and the administration raged on, until it came to her notice that BHU administration was planning to initiate an enquiry against her (for obvious reasons).

She then lodged a complaint with the NCSC chairman. The Commission’s chairman P L Punia wrote an intensely passionate letter to HRD ministry and the Prime Minister, indicting BHU VC in the case, and further to the complicity of the entire administrative machinery in harassing the complainant. It was a record of sorts as a non-bailable warrant was issued by the commission against the then BHU VC, Dr. Lalji Singh.

There have been other cases as well which do not help in any way to strengthen the idea of BHU.

To put it straight, love it or hate it but you cannot dismiss caste as not playing a pivotal role in BHU. An institution is an integral part of the environment in which it exists (those who know a little about system theory would understand this injunction in a better manner). Notwithstanding the overwhelming number of pros associated with the holy city of Varanasi, it largely is a place where people ask your name mostly for the purpose of ascertaining your caste (by racking their brains over your surname). You might be cajoled into revealing your complete name if you refuse to do so at the first bidding. Quote Shakespeare in their faces if you have to, but I get a perverse feeling that it might not help.

Also read: Is An RSS Takeover Looming Large Over Banaras Hindu University?

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