What I Saw At BHU As Students Came Together Against Sexism On Campus

A lot is being said on news channels and written on social media about the recent occurrences at Banaras Hindu University, and most of it is not just misleading but dangerously vicious. After having spent two days protesting at the campus’s gate, and having gathered information from protesting students, here is my ground report of the incident.

On September 21, 2017, a female student on her way back from the Fine Arts Department to Triveni Hostel was allegedly molested by three boys. The incident is said to have occurred at around 6 p.m. in one of the most prominent universities in the nation. When the girl cried for help, none of the guards came to her rescue. Somehow, she managed to call up her friends who took her to the hostel in a semi-conscious state.

The student and her friends complained to the hostel warden whose response was that the curfew timings for girls’ hostel must be brought down to 6 p.m., so the girls do not roam around late at night and such incidents do not occur. Frustrated, the girls approached the Proctor who started victim-shaming. He allegedly asked the girls, “Hostel jaogi ya ab rape karwaogi?”

Having endured enough of this nonsense, girls gathered at the Lanka Gate. Messages were sent through social media and calls were made to fellow students urging them to gather at the Lanka gate. A large number of female students gathered at the gate with a simple demand that the Vice Chancellor of the university, Girish Chandra Tripathi, meets them and addresses their concerns about safety on the campus.

Nobody in the administration paid heed to their demands or even as much as coming to meet the students. Although there was no active campaign on social media or any other channel, more and more students joined the sit-in at the gate and peacefully continued their protest. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Banaras on September 22, 2017, and September 23, 2017, but was too busy to pay attention.

So much for “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao”, Modiji?

As the news of the protest spread via social media, the students received nation-wide support and encouragement. It must be this support and the increasing momentum of the movement that irked the Modi-Yogi-VC nexus, and the police were ordered to lathi-charge the protesting students at around 8 pm on September 24.

Male police persons beat up women students. Following the lathi-charge, as the women students moved to their hostels, they were locked from outside, and police were posted outside every hostel. Nobody was allowed to get in or go out of the hostels. Inside the hostels, girls were threatened and blackmailed by the administration. The protesting girls told me that their families were called up and told that their daughters were indulging in ‘netagiri’.

Is it ‘netagiri’ to ask for a safe and secure campus?

NEW DELHI, INDIA – SEPTEMBER 25: Activists of NSUI protest shouting slogans against Centre Government and UP Government against the brutal lathicharge in BHU campus and the dictatorship of BHU administration at HRD Ministry Shastri Bhawan on September 25, 2017 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The next day (Sept 25), students claim that they were told to vacate the hostels by 4 pm or else their stuff would be thrown out. They have also alleged that to make it appear as if the girls were leaving the hostel of their own will, they were forced to send a letter seeking permission to go home. While most students succumbed to parental pressure and administrative high-handedness, few girls refused to leave. Still, others vacated the hostels but made arrangements to stay at friends’ places in the city. Around 5 pm, a Citizens’ March was organised to demand probe into the incidents of molestation and that of lathi-charge and punish those found guilty. Slogans such as, “Nari Mukti Zindabad”, “Chhatra Ekta Zindabad”, “VC humse darta hai, Police ko aage karta hai”, were raised. Students of BHU, as well as other universities, professors, civil society members, social workers and other citizens of Banaras, attended the march. The District Magistrate was forced to come down and talk to the agitated crowd. He agreed to both demands of probing the incidents of molestation and lathi-charge, and punish those found guilty.

While the campus is deserted now and looks more like a cantonment than a university, various kinds of rumours are being spread to discredit the movement. The VC has claimed that this movement is a handiwork of outsiders. If it is true, VC Sahib, then why have you lodged FIRs against more than 1000 students of BHU? Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy is saying that it looks like a Naxalite movement. Why is it that women seeking a dignified life, on equal terms with their male counterparts are labelled Naxalite?

It’s important to note that an isolated incident didn’t trigger the protest; most girls in BHU have faced sexual harassment inside the campus. There exists no mechanism for gender sensitisation and no active and effective institution to address sexual harassment complaints, according to students. A few fundamental questions need to be asked (again): While the library in BHU closes at 11 pm, girls have to be inside their hostels by 7 pm. For whose sake is the library open then? This is just one instance of how BHU treats its female students as secondary citizens. Isn’t the struggle for receiving education in this nation enough, that the girls also have to suffer inside the campus? If the VC can’t even meet the agitating students of the university but give interviews, then Mr Tripathy must be asked what purpose does it serve for him to be the VC?

NEW DELHI, INDIA – SEPTEMBER 25: Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists protest against the lathicharge in BHU campus at HRD Ministry, Shastri Bhawan on September 25, 2017 in New Delhi, India. Several students, mostly women, and policemen were wounded in clashes at Banaras Hindu University after university guards and cops cane-charged protesters in front of the vice chancellor?s home and at the main entrance to the century-old institutions sprawling campus around midnight on Saturday. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The female students of BHU have had enough of this patriarchal nonsense. They have affirmed that once the holiday season is over, they will continue their protest with renewed strength and efforts. No threats, FIRs and intimidation will bring them down. There is no turning back. The ultimate success of this movement lies in the fact that the students who had for so long tolerated sexual harassment in the campus have asserted that they will bear it no more. These students are an inspiration.

It must be now our responsibility now to provide much-needed support to the movement and the brave students of BHU. The movement must be strengthened and taken to all parts of the nation. I appeal one and all to respond to unite under this movement assure the students of BHU that they are not alone in their struggle. The whole nation stands with them.

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