Issues of gender discrimination in BHU’s girl’s hostel has been making news for quite some time now. Students also filed an RTI asking for clarity on the exact rules that the female residents of the hostel are supposed to adhere to. Following are excerpts from an interview with the Vice-Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University Girish Chandra Tripathi. He spoke to Youth Ki Awaaz on various facets of the issue.
Prashant Jha (PJ): A few students had filed an RTI to get access to the exact rules and regulations that the female residents of the hostel have to abide by. The list of regulations revealed by the RTI are clearly discriminatory in nature. A few of them would include, the curfew at 8 p.m. or asking the girls to dress modestly.
BHU VC: These rules weren’t made yesterday. I’d request you to understand that the youth is going to keep acting a certain way but I have certain responsibilities as a mature adult that I need to fulfill. Would it be all right for a woman to roam outside the hostel with whoever she wants at 10.30 p.m.? Can something like that be permitted?
PJ: It isn’t so much about who she is going out with. What if she has work beyond 8 p.m.?
BHU VC: See, it is important that you understand the nature of the problem. The problem is more personal than general. Female residents of the hostel can definitely go out but they must inform the warden where and with whom she’s going. Is it wrong to ask for such details?
PJ: Is there a provision that asks female residents to provide the warden with such information?
BHU VC: Of course there is! How can a university stop someone from going somewhere? But you know, our hostels do have all the facilities. There’s a canteen, residents have access to an internet connection. One must not find the need to venture out when the place they are living in is fully equipped. Having said that, we have about 8000-10,000 female and 14-15 thousand male residents living in 90 hostels in BHU and it is not allowed for just about anybody to visit each other in their rooms. No one has the freedom to do something like that in BHU.
PJ: What if someone is hungry after 8 p.m.? Is the canteen open for 24 hours?
BHU VC: Of course. But it is absurd for someone to get hungry at midnight.
PJ: There’s another rule that asks female residents to wear ‘appropriate clothes’. But could you explain, what are ‘appropriate’ pieces of clothing?
BHU VC: Don’t think like a journalist, think like a father. Think of what ‘appropriate clothes’ would mean to a father.
PJ: How come there’s a need to wear ‘appropriate clothes’ or full length clothes in the night?
BHU VC: No no, I haven’t defined a dress code. But you know there are cases of live-in relationships, where after the boy refuses to get married, the girl lodges complaints at the university, even threatens to commit suicide! Try and understand the dilemma I’m in. We have had about a dozen cases like this. Don’t just listen to the students, think about their guardians too. Think about their condition when a problem like this happens, which is why the university has always had this rule, wherein a female student has to inform the warden about where and with whom she’s going after 8 p.m.
PJ: Some of the female students have even said that even if they are late by 10 minutes…
BHU VC (interrupting the question): Do you think they are being honest? A university that’s a century old and has been running these hostels for such a long time, how come suddenly such a problem surfaces?
PJ: That’s exactly what I am asking.
BHU VC: I’ll tell you what the problem is. There’s this one group in the university that’s talking about and addressing these topics. We’ve had these rules ever since the university came into existence and boys and girls in thousands have lived in these hostels for years. There’s nothing new about these rules, why didn’t they talk about this before? Now that it’s the Prime Minister’s constituency, people like Sandeep Pandey are trying to disrupt the functioning of the university.
This is exactly why I fired him. You know what he taught the students? He used to tell them that Kashmir wasn’t an integral part of India. He also dared to screen the Nirbhaya documentary that the government has banned. There’s just this one group that’s trying to create problems.
PJ: People also raise a very basic question. They ask why aren’t the same rules applicable to male residents of the hostel?
BHU VC: I don’t think the girls are complaining about this. Ask the people who are asking this question and if they are guardians of a female student. There’s complete equality between male and female students.
PJ: You didn’t answer my question. Why aren’t the rules applicable on the male residents of the hostel?
BHU VC: It would be better if you thought about the answer to this question yourself.Come over and we’ll do a workshop on this. If everyone thinks this particular rule is wrong, I’m ready to put it up for review but let me reiterate that I haven’t made these rules. All of this is Sandeep Pandey’s doing, I will file a case against him and prohibit his entry into the university. I visit the hostel every month and none of the female residents have ever complained about the rules. Also, it isn’t compulsory to live in the hostel, if someone doesn’t like the rules or think they are unnecessary can ask their guardians to make arrangements for them outside the university. These people will create so many problems one day and that they’ll get public universities to shut. These people only understand ‘rights’ and not ‘obligations’.
PJ: But sir, how will female residents voice their concerns, if they have one, when the university gets them to sign on an affidavit right in the beginning that prohibits participation in any form protest?
BHU VC: Why won’t they raise their concerns? They are not allowed to be part of ‘dharna’. Sandeep Pandey trains students for these kind of things. He was literally teaching students how to protest. Protests or ‘Dharnas’ are not permitted within the university.
PJ: Sandeep Pandey was relatively new to the university, the rules however are still old.
BHU VC: All these rules were made keeping the best interests of the students in mind. Also, tell me, why aren’t boys raped, why are only girls raped? The unfortunate incidents that happen, in most cases happens with girls, why doesn’t it happen with boys? So if I question the rules that keep the girls safe, will I be doing any justice to them?
PJ: Sir, shouldn’t we ask the boys to not commit these crimes? Shouldn’t we hold them responsible?
BHU VC: We must hold the boys accountable but it is the university’s primary responsibility to ensure protection. How will it help the situation, if I throw myself into danger, call for help and when nobody comes to my rescue, I blame them?
PJ: Do you mean to say, that having the girls roam around freely is equivalent to them willingly throwing themselves in the path of danger?
BHU VC: They can roam all they want during the day. They can’t do so after 8 p.m. and before 5 a.m. Only students don’t live within the university campus, there are miscreants too, who pass by. And anyway, the ‘threat perception’ in the country is at an all-time high which is why these rules are in place. People make issues out of things they don’t fully understand.
PJ: There was a demand to have a bus service from the from the girl’s hostel to the library. This is mentioned in the prospectus too. So when the students took this demand to the Registrar’s office, they were told that it was unnatural for women to be studying in the night.
BHU VC: I don’t think that’s what was said.
PJ: They have the statement in written with them.
BHU VC: Not just women, it is unnatural for anyone to study for 24 hours. We teach over all personality development to our students. We don’t go by or run our classes according to what the students want. The students will have to live the way we want them to. They will have to listen to us and we’ll listen to them.
PJ: What about women’s/female residents’ freedom?
BHU VC: Who’s stopping women from being free? Our library is open till 11 p.m. and it is shut after that for both men and women. I am yet to find a university where the library is open for 24 hours. Why is BHU being made a target? You should look at the content that’s uploaded after 11 p.m. and then decide if the library should be open beyond 11. Internet is available to students throughout the university, what’s the need to visit the library? One can study in their own rooms.
PJ: The internet connection, I have been told, doesn’t work in the girl’s hostel.
BHU VC: Internet connection is not available in every room. There’s a common room where internet is available and students can study there if they want. In which university will you find internet connection/availability in every room? We don’t get so much money to allow for an internet connection in every room. I don’t think all the female residents have these issues, it is just a select few.
We are dedicated to the overall development of our students. It is possible that I might not have an understanding of certain issues but we can all discuss it and fix it.