By Anand Singh:
You enter BHU through a gate that sits somewhat unperturbed by the strange dichotomy it creates. A hubbub of confusion to one side and a mirage of calm and relative ease to its opposite. Almost the first sight that catches one’s attention upon entering the majestic campus is a trifle-too-pale entry point to Mahila Mahavidyalaya (Women’s College), known colloquially as MMV.
MMV was envisioned by its founder as a seat of higher learning for females within the University, where the girls could carry on with business as usual without preoccupying their minds with other mundane considerations, considerations that are so very symptomatic of the temple town. Perhaps their vision was slated to be doomed from the very beginning. Or worse, what is happening within the deeply fortified walls of MMV is representative of a greater malaise plaguing the entire varsity.
Consider this: There is only one professor in the political science department to look after the entire fleet of undergraduate students. While some are lucky enough to have a ‘darshan‘ of the esteemed faculty member during their three-year sojourn at the college, others have to content themselves with fledgling research scholars. Research scholars, who, in most of the cases, buckle under the pressure to engage the students in meaningful lectures while keeping abreast of their research. Too little to ask for, eh?
Aishwarya (surname has been deliberately omitted following her request), a final year undergraduate student of economics at MMV, laments “Strangely ironical is the fact that a university which boasts of one of the most extensive university library systems in Asia should have a constituent women’s college in which the library exists merely for the sake of formality. Seldom do we find a book while looking for it.” What she did not realize is that she was echoing the sentiments of hordes of similar such students who frustrate themselves routinely while searching for a book in BHU’s Central Library.
Furthermore, the girls are expected to comply with the rather infamous ‘8 p.m. dictum’ which says that the hostel inmates living within the MMV premises must not, in any case, breach the pre-ordained deadline. Before this whole narrative starts appearing clichéd, a few things need to be put straight. Not even in the rarest of circumstances (to hell with you if you have some academic business to attend to) permission is granted to stay outside after 8 in the night. Any breach is met with retribution, swift and uncompromising. A threat to cancel the hostel seat is a threat large enough to force the girls to fall in line.
Sir Valentine Chirol said, “All opposition, even in the shape of criticism, is distasteful to an autocracy and apt to be regarded as even pregnant with sedition.” When girls complain about the disgraceful hygienic conditions in the hostel lavatories and in the college, their complaints are countered using this hackneyed diatribe: “Yaha itni problem hai to apne sasural me kaise adjust karogi?” (If you have so many problems here, how are you going to make compromises once you’re married?) This is what the dictator does. Crushing the same fighting and questioning spirit which, it presumes, shall burgeon into a full-blown rebellion one day. And did not Anton Chekhov always maintain that bad habits should be nipped in the bud?
“We once found our hostel staff (male) urinating in the bathrooms instead of the lavatories. We tried apprising the Principal of this blatant subversion of rules after our complaints fell on deaf ears in our hostel. We were refused an audience in the most dismissive manner“, recounted a B.Sc student who did not wish to be named. ‘Impregnable libertines’ are seen as a threat to the system. The girls had become precisely that.
Aishwarya recalls the nauseating, grisly scene in which used sanitary pads are frequently hauled up by stray and mangy dogs out of the litter bins. What follows thereafter is a complete travesty of the promise of a clean campus with which the varsity has drugged itself, oblivious of the seething reality.
Life within the towering walls of MMV begins to look appetizing when compared to the ordeals the girls are forced to go through once they venture out of it.
The MMV square is dubbed sardonically as ‘piya-milan chowraha.’ (a vantage point for couples). Girls find it very challenging to tour the campus without feeling grossly insecure. Lewd and bawdy comments coupled with inappropriate gestures stare them in the face at almost every point in the campus, in spite of the heavy security installation and the huge budget of the University’s proctorial board. Here again, my personal experience prepared me to reconcile myself with the actual reality. I was once privy to an incident wherein a proctorial board staff was admonishing a girl for singing out loudly while riding pillion on a motorbike. The incident took place at Vishwanath temple within the campus. Such cases of blatant patriarchy are not isolated. They only go unreported.
The last example to drive home my point. Every year during the University’s youth festival, the space earmarked as girl’s gallery witnesses a flood of inflated condoms, courtesy the boys underneath the glitzy marquee. The entire episode unfolds amidst the august presence of the entire administrative apparatus of the university. Another caveat, reminding us of how Asia’s largest residential varsity chooses to treat its women.