Students of Banaras Hindu University returned to campus on October 3 after the Dasara break, but the situation is still tense with a high-powered committee headed by a retired judge of the Allahabad High Court beginning a probe into the incident of September 23, when protests turned violent.
For the past year, the BHU has been witnessing a churn with students, especially girls, raising their voice against patriarchal norms of the 101-year-old institution. The trigger for the latest protest came on September 21, when a fine arts student alleged she had been molested by bike riders on campus and security guards and the hostel warden had blamed her for the incident. Scores of students gathered at the main gate of BHU in protest. On September 23, the police lathi-charged the crowd, injuring several students. The administration alleged that “anti-social elements” from outside campus had joined the protest. The students, however, said the police action was unprovoked and that the demonstration was peaceful.
The immediate demand of the students is legal action against the culprits of the molestation case and administrative action against security personnel and officials. The preliminary probe report by the Varanasi administration also blamed the varsity for being insensitive and reacting too slowly to the situation. The students also want better security on the sprawling campus — lighting of the dark zones, installation of CCTV cameras, sensitisation of administrative staff and relaxation of curfew timings for girls’ hostels. A major grouse of the girl students of BHU has been that instead of preventing acts of molestation and eve-teasing, the administration was more focussed on curbing their freedom. Some of the girls’ hostels face restrictions whereby they must return to their boarding by 8 p.m., whereas the curfew timing for boys’ hostels is 10 p.m.
The lathicharge on students led to widespread outrage and teachers, especially women, defended the girls' rights to a safer and secure environment. Some women professors and officials also narrated their experiences of eve-teasing and harassment on the campus, which apart from a big population of students, has a regular flow of outsiders visiting it or commuting through it. There are two large hospitals and one big temple, the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir, on the campus. The administration has for long argued that they cannot prevent outsiders from entering the campus but after the lathicharge incident, it has taken steps to regulate traffic and restrict vehicular movement in some areas, while also planning surprise identify proof checks.
A number of administrative staff believe that the protests were fuelled by outside elements and politically-motivated students. BHU Vice-Chancellor Girish Chandra Tripathi, who has gone on leave, alleged that the students staged the protest and refused to budge from the spot despite assurances.
Post the lathicharge, the university has taken steps to enhance security on the campus, installing over 60 CCTVs, repairing streetlights, opening up portals for student-administration interaction and communication of grievances in hostels.
Justice V.K. Dikshit has begun his probe. But students feel the probe should have been constituted under a woman judge. Meanwhile, the police are questioning those accused of arson — an FIR was filed against 1,000 unknown students on charges, including attempt to murder.
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