By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Richa Singh became the first female president of the Allahabad University Students Union in 2016. She won as an independent candidate. The other four members on the panel were from the right-wing student group ABVP. Singh had opposed the entry of Yogi Adityanath last year on the campus which had led to an altercation with the ABVP. She had also invited senior journalist Siddharth Varadarajan to speak on the campus earlier this year which was also marred by controversy.
Youth Ki Awaaz met her on February 25, 2016 in Delhi. She spoke about alleged harassment at the hands of the university administration, among other things.
Abhimanyu Singh (AS): You have been writing to the MHRD regularly about these developments. Could you tell us about that?
Richa Singh (RS): Yes, I have done that. When we had opposed the entry of Yogi Adityanath on the campus, and sat on a hunger strike, the four office-bearers of ABVP and at least 30 to 35 goons with them had attacked us. There was sexual violence. Sexually-coloured remarks were made. We wrote to MHRD about this.
AS: The university administration did not help?
RS: They stood there and watched. The next day, in the report filed on the incident by a university official, I was blamed for the incident and served with a show-cause notice. We also filed an FIR naming that particular university official because it was his responsibility to intervene and save us. My right wrist was in fact injured in the scuffle. However, that university official continues to be in his position.
We wrote to the PM, the president and the MHRD about this but we did not even receive a proper acknowledgement, only a system-generated e-mail.
We demanded a judicial enquiry into the matter but the university did nothing. The matter was hushed up. Why? Because ABVP people were involved in it. They had to be saved.
A day before the Varadarajan meet, on January 19, in front of the Vice-Chancellor, Proctor and the Dean of Students Welfare, ABVP people threatened me openly that they won’t let me function on campus. I wrote once again to MHRD and asked them to look into this.
There are many gender-related issues in the university. Girls don’t feel safe. We wrote to them about that but nothing happened.
AS: Girls are being sexually harassed regularly on the campus?
RS: Yes. Just a day ago, a boy slapped a girl at the Arts Faculty. True, now they are saying they will expel that boy after we created pressure and filed an FIR but why should such an environment exist within the campus?
We have said several times that there are no boards against sexual harassment or ragging on campus, no awareness about the issue.
AS: You want a separate body like JNU’s GSCASH (Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment) to look into such cases?
RS: Yes, along with the spread of general awareness. I have given them the outlines for such projects several times as I have been a Women’s Studies scholar too. But nothing happened.
Moreover, recently the VC appointed an Officer on Special Duty. He has been a research scholar earlier at the University. He faces charges of sexually harassing a Dalit girl, along with charges under the law which prevents atrocities against Dalits. We challenged the VC on this appointment.
AS: When was the OSD appointed?
RS: Around a month ago.
AS: And when were charges filed against him.
RS: The charges were part of an FIR filed in 2014. It was filed by the victim who later left the hostel. Later on, she withdrew her name from the FIR but still, the final report on the matter has not been presented in the case. We believe that a university is meant for academics. Will it adhere to some standards of morality or not?
On February 18, there was a meeting at MHRD to which all VCs were invited. It was to discuss sensitization on women and Dalit issues. On one hand, you are discussing that and on the other, such appointments are being made.
Since I raised this issue in front of the VC – I wrote to MHRD too and handed over a letter personally to MoS (R.S.) Katheria – nothing has happened. MoS assured that action will be taken but that’s all. I have written four letters to Smriti Irani but I have received no response.
In fact, the VC has been threatening me that he will expel me. In fact, I heard today that a committee has been formed to probe my admission to the PhD programme. What am I supposed to think? That you actually want to turn me out? Of course, I will take it up legally, but it means only two things to form such a committee: either you wish to turn me out of the university or you want to put me under pressure. I also believe that the government is interfering in our university.
I was admitted through the due process: I wrote the Common Research Entrance Test and appeared for the interview, submitted my synopsis. The very fact of constituting a committee is to threaten me.
I have been sent a legal notice by the OSD. VC has been saying he will file a defamation case against me. But I have all the papers backing my charges.
Thing is, to appoint such an OSD, accused of sexual harassment, sends a wrong message to the university.
AS: Do you think saffronisation within universities has become more prominent during this government’s term?
RS: Yes. For example, the confrontation that took place between Rohith’s group (Ambedkarite Students Association) and ABVP could have been resolved at the university level. That’s how it has always happened. But the BJP government intervened and wrote several times asking for action against Rohit. Now they (ABVP) is getting a back-up. Look at what happened with Sandeep Pandey in BHU or in Madras IIT with APSC. Those who are not with BJP are being targeted directly.
If it’s not so, why does the PM Modi not issue a clarification? He is not only the BJP’s PM, he is the PM of the entire nation.
Look at what happened when they protested against the seminar on Ram Janmabhoomi in DU. Or in BHU a couple of days ago when PM Modi visited.
Why is the right to protest being snatched away from us? Recently, our VC released a circular that the students union can’t organise any programme. You are trying to gag us.
When Varadarajan was to come, the university administration barred us from holding the function. The district administration did the same. So we held it right outside the campus. But the same day, inside the students union hall, the ABVP conducted a pravachan ( sermon) by Shantanu ji maharaj. It can be seen on YouTube. Why was there no action against it? We even questioned the V-C on this, Varadarajan was with us. The V-C simply denied this, despite the evidence.
AS: Do you think this is also making the progressive forces rally together?
RS: Yes, because they also understand that everyone’s space is in danger here. There is no option except struggle.
AS: Because they have been divided too…
RS: Yes. Yesterday I got to speak at the rally held at Jantar Mantar on land rights. I said that the farmers, students, progressive forces, they will all have to unite together and fight. Only then can we succeed.
I said this during the Occupy UGC movement too. That the government knows we are divided. The fight can take place only through unity and won too through unity.
AS: Some have said that issues of class and caste are different; that the Rohith Vemula issue should be kept separate…
RS: Those are political statements. These are issues related to universities and will be tackled by students. There will be different problems in different universities. There were more Dalits in Hyderabad so it manifested in that way. JNU has more progressive people. In Allahabad, you can see a woman president being harassed.
I did my post-graduation in economics. I topped in M.Phil in my women’s studies course. I have cleared NET in both these subjects.
When I contested, people asked me: have you got nothing else to do? So a student can be an industrialist, an economist, a bureaucrat, but he can’t be in politics? This is the youngest country in the world. It is very important that the youth should participate in politics. Elections will now be held at the level of young and female voters. Women will now come into leadership roles.
See, it is not only about Richa. The girl students saw some hope in my victory – that they could also contest. The politics in Allahabad university is different in many aspects.
AS: In which way?
RS: DU’s politics is glamorous. JNU’s politics is progressive. The politics here is about muscle power, money power, caste and patriarchy. I mean, otherwise, why did they not have a single women president in 128 years? When I contested, it was pointed out to me several times. I told them it was not about being a man or a woman but also maintained that we should not be overlooked because we are women. You listen to what I have to say and then decide. I never said that vote for me because I am a woman.
But the kind of attack that took place before the Yogi Adityanath visit created a fear among girls. The way I am being targeted, they feel I have unnecessarily fallen for controversies (by contesting elections). Instead of having our morale boosted, we are being demoralised. It appears that they are trying to harass me so much that no one dares to contest the next time.
Allahabad University used to be called the Oxford of the East but it is out of the national scenario at least for the last decade. That’s because there is no participation in student politics on issues of education, economics, etc. I had said that I would bring the university back to the national scenario and I believe I succeeded in that. We have provided the model of resistance here. But I have had to pay a heavy price for that.
I fought a fair election. During university elections, the city is replete with hoardings of candidates. I did not even have money to put up hoardings and neither did I want to because we wanted to do away with that model.
It has been only two months since the V-C took over and this is his first appointment. We have questioned that if his first appointment is so improper, what do we expect next?
Yesterday, there was a public meeting here. I said that I am speaking here but maybe, after 15-20 days, you will have to come to Allahabad. Because they are planning to expel me. Since you have no grounds for that, you have formed a committee to look into my admission. Maybe in a month’s time, something similar (to what happened with Rohit ) will happen to me. After Hyderabad (Central University), Allahabad (University) could be next.
AS: Do you think the students are the flagbearer of dissent against Modi?
RS: If the Modi government is being challenged, it is by the students.