Recently, 11 students from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) have been prohibited from taking up any courses in the future within the University. The step was the result of these students participating in protests against the molestation of a female student on the campus. The order for the same, came when the students objected to the proctor Royana Singh’s statement regarding the September 2017 protest which they claim was apparently “sponsored.”
Over a year ago, in September 2017, many students at BHU, mainly women, protested when a woman student of the Arts Faculty was allegedly harassed by three motorcycle-borne men on the campus.
On probing further, a source from BHU divulged details about the incident. The student was on her way back from a lawn which happens to be in the campus. Between 7:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., three men on a motorcycle came and “uske saath chhedkani ki” (she was harassed and fiddled around with). The security was close by and came to her aid, but were too late and the men had ridden off by then.
In a report by LiveWire about the incident, it is stated that, “when the woman went to the proctor and warden to file a complaint, she was turned away, her claims were dismissed. Instead, she was accused of being responsible for the incident.”
Enraged about the same, students at BHU protested and demanded a safer campus for the female students.
The students have been demanding the setting up of GCASH (Gender Sensitization Against Sexual Harassment Committee); a revision of women’s hostel timings and the ban on non-vegetarian food to be lifted. According to a source in BHU, we were informed that these demands came up only when the students with political affiliations joined the protest.
The protest which saw several female students leaving their hostels at night was a landmark moment for BHU.
But, what started as a peaceful protest, later turned aggressive once the police lathi-charged the crowd. Our source from BHU claimed that politicisation of the protest was the reason for the lathi-charge. Apparently, it went out of hand only because students from the youth wings of the political parties joined the protest. This incident received greater coverage when the Vice-Chancellor G.C. Tripathi went on indefinite leave.
It must be noted that the university is not giving in to the demands of the students who want a safer campus for women. This has been the rule for years and it is a ‘pratha’ or tradition.
Later, in April 2018, a committee headed by the erstwhile High Court judge V.K. Dikshit went on to issue a report giving Tripathi a clean chit calling the students’ protest was “politicised and sponsored.”
On speaking to a source from BHU, we also learnt that the administration was very unhappy with the VC that had been appointed.
Over the years in BHU, there have been no student councils that have been appointed due to the political affiliations of students, which in turn, led to a lot of protests. The Vice-Chancellor G.C. Tripathi, gave a lot of freedom to the students and had even promised (through word of mouth) to allow the appointment of a student council this year. According to the administration, the freedom given to the students was very high, which led to such consequences.
It is also know that the university did not have a VC for a period of seven months, which is the reason for delay in the order. Adding to that, the earlier VC has been rusticated and the administration has agreed that due justice has been done.
The appointed proctor, Royana Singh, went on to tag the protest as “sponsored” and claimed pizzas and sodas were also distributed during the protest. She was then accused by the students of maligning them.
On May 3 2018, Singh organised a standing committee to look into the matter and further, went on to lodge an FIR against the 11 students. There were multiple charges against the students, including those of attempted murder filed at the Lanka police station. The students named in the FIR were Mrityunjay Maurya, Vikas Singh, Shivangi Choubey, Mithilesh Kumar, Garima Yadav, Deepak Singh, Rajat Singh, Anup Kumar, Shashwat Upadhyay, Aparna, Parul Shukla, and Jay Maurya. The charges imposed on the students included the Sections 147, 148, 353, 332, 427, 504, 307 and 395 of Indian Penal Code, as per the as per the complaint made by Proctor Royana Singh. BHU justified the murder charges by stating that the students threw a paperweight to break the glass and hurt the people behind the door, and for this reason a charge, under Section 307, the section related to attempt to murder.
“Royana Singh did not show anyone the CCTV footage and instead defamed our movement. She had given an interview to Zee News without any proof. Interestingly, a standing committee was formed in the college to examine the charges against the students and Singh herself was made the head of this committee,” said Shivangi, who was debarred as a result of this protest.
According to Singh, the students had come into her office without any prior appointment and forcefully made their way into her office by attempting to break the glass on the door. Eventually, the attempted murder charges were dropped due to insufficient grounds.
Diwakar Singh, a member of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) clarified,“There was a door glass which was painted with wooden colour giving false illusion of the door being made of wood. When one of the members of JAC knocked on that part, it fell down.”
A source who was present at the site, informed us, that, around 30 students had entered the proctor’s office, without prior permission and started threatening the proctor. They made threats of murder against her as well.
Though, the police removed the charges against the student, BHU’s standing committee did find a few students guilty and further debarred them from the university.
As per reports, the order was based on “[an] examination of oral and written statements of students, Singh and staff.” The order had stated that, a group of female students were “shouting abusive and anti-university slogans and demanding the chief proctor herself give [an] explanation on her alleged interview regarding the incident.”
The BHU standing committee, on July 24, invoked certain provisions of the ordinances passed, in its charter and it charged the 11 students with acts of vandalism, assault, dharna and pradarshan.
Aparna Sanjay, a third year student from the Mahila Maha Vidhyalaya, one among those debarred, said, “When we demanded safety and justice for us in September, we got lathis and when we went to talk to the chief proctor who maligned our protest, then the false charges were put against us and we got debarred from the university. Instead of taking action on the accused, the administration is harassing its own students who raised their voice against injustice.”
Another student’s hostel seat was cancelled, the official reason for which was that she was sitting on a “dharna.”
“I come from an Adivasi community and it has been really challenging for me to come to BHU for my studies. It is painful for me that just because I raised my voice against sexual harassment in the campus, I won’t be able to continue my studies. This is really unfortunate and is an undemocratic action taken by the BHU administration,” said Shubham Ahake, another debarred student.
The public relations officer, Rajesh Singh, issued a statement which said, “There is no space of protests or dharnas in our campus.” But, he refused to say anything on the police report. He further added that “administration will go according to the report of the standing committee.”
He went on to say, that, if the students provide an undertaking that they would not be part of any protest and unconditionally apologise, the university would not punish them.
A source also informed us that, the students were warned that if they are seen taking part in any other protests or demonstrations, they would be rusticated and would permanently never be given admission anywhere.
The Senior JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav condemned the police action against Banaras Hindu University students protesting against the increasing incidents of sexual harassment on the campus, and further said that “we will raise the issue in Parliament… It is intolerable in a democracy and the government should apologise.”
The University has complied with the Court’s order of not debarring the students. The students have been permitted to be part of the university, but on a condition. Three students took a transfer to other colleges; Shivangi Chaubey, who had successfully cleared the entrance exam for MA in linguistics at BHU, took a transfer to Delhi University for the same course; Saumya Pandey, joined Jawaharlal Nehru University. The details of the transfer of the third student are not known.
The other eight students are continuing their Master’s course in BHU, but have been disallowed from taking re-admission.