BHU violence: Recent atrocities are symptoms; rot that's in university's veins traceable to Arjun Singh's time

Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya's commitment to "empower the nation through education" laid the foundation for an institution dedicated to engineering and technology education – through the establishment of Banaras Engineering College (BENCO) in 1919 at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU). BENCO was the seed that germinated into the mammoth tree we know as IIT (BHU) today.

Notably, Malaviya's vision also acknowledged the importance of empowering women through education. The Mahila Mahavidyalaya (MMV) came into existence in 1929 at a time when the education of women had not even taken baby steps in the country. In that light, the recent turn of events at BHU presents a sad irony; where the molestation of a girl student and violence against female protestors has pitchforked BHU into the national spotlight.

Has Malaviya's dream turned into a nightmare? Are the cynics correct in saying that the facade of tranquillity of Malaviya's "sarva vidya ki Rajdhani" (capital of knowledge) is just a hoax? The truth lies in shades of grey rather than the extremes of black or white.

File image of students protesting at BHU. PTI

File image of students protesting at BHU. PTI

Shrill and prejudiced debates on TV channels and in print reflect all the traits of a media trial, where the accused is not even allowed an opportunity to defend himself. For someone whose heart lies in the university, it is distressing to note that after the disastrous appearance of its vice-chancellor Girish Chandra Tripathi on TV channels, BHU is left with no spokesperson to defend it.

Fact remains that in the period from the mid-1970s through the 1980s, the university saw worse violence and countless sine dies (indefinite closures). It was only during the late 1980s, when Prof RP Rastogi was the V-C, that the rot in BHU was stopped. There is, however, no denying the fact that the present V-C has messed up badly in his responsibilities.

The crisis confronting BHU is not one of physical existence but is closer to an ethical and moral existence, which was the core of Malaviya's stress on education being the centre of character and nation-building. It is this concern that compels me to write this piece.

The background

The prime responsibility of the shameful molestation and irresponsible response lies at the door of BHU's proctorial board (PB), which manages security on campus. The PB has gradually been converted from a student-friendly body into one which indulges in arrogant muscle flexing and has become the den of corruption – with even funds meant for fuel for its patrolling vehicles being pilfered brazenly.

Its members, all teaching faculty, exploit the security personnel sub-contracted from outsourcing agencies to run personal errands and serve as domestic help. Questioning the girl's intent and her reason for staying out after 6 pm was representative of the regressive mindset the PB seems to firmly believe in.

Just a few days ago, the grapevine was rife with an incident where a proctor, a new entrant to the university but an old hand in the internal politics, had launched a diatribe against a fellow proctor using the choicest of expletives in the presence of other female proctors during a routine meeting.

This gentleman is rumoured to have since resigned from the PB citing threats to his life. But the grapevine suggests that failure to get his wife appointed as a faculty member resulted in the fallout. Also, he has never taken his allotted classes from the day he became a proctor. So much for character building.

Reverting to the main story, an intervention by senior administration officials resulted in the grave situation being contained by late in the night. The victim, naturally distressed, agreed to submit a FIR, which was to be forwarded to the police, the next morning. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the city scheduled for the next day, an unwritten agreement was arrived at which included the university administration coming back with an update on the demands of the girls, pertaining to security on campus.

What actually transpired during the night will never be known. Whether the girls decided to stand up to protest against eve teasing, which has seen a spike during the past few months, or whether, as per rumours doing the rounds go, a local politician father and son duo managed to instigate them to settle their personal grouse against the V-C, will perhaps never be known.

Despite the nonstop venom being spewed against the BHU administration in general and the V-C in particular, there is no denying the truth that the agitators cannot be absolved of their role in the violence.

After an initial delay in reacting to the dharna, the V-C was willing to talk to selected agitators. The venue remained the only sticking point as both sides gradually refused to budge.

Officials involved in the prolonged discussions over the dharna spot vouch for the fact that the girls had agreed to go to the V-C lodge for negotiations, but were forcibly prevented by male students who were apparently not from the university. Thanks to social media, umpteen evidence is available that Left Wing students from other universities had infiltrated the agitation with the sole purpose of shaming BHU and disrupting Modi's visit.

The city police failed to respond in a timely manner to the escalating violence, which forced the V-C to beat a hasty retreat as he made a last-ditch attempt to meet the students at the Triveni hostel on the night of 23 September in an attempt to placate them. Officials privy to the events confirm that innumerable attempts by the V-C to solicit police support went in vain.

It was only after an intervention from Lucknow that the police forces entered the scene hastily and resorted to unwarranted violence. That the police botch up is being white-washed through an administrative report bodes ill for the future.

In a nutshell; a vacillating and arrogant V-C surrounded by a self-serving coterie, ham-handed city police and students who allowed their genuine cause to be hijacked by vested interests, combined to sully Malaviya's legacy.

So, as the media's shrill debate goes, will sacking V-C, as some hashtags suggest, restore BHU’s pride?

Since I have made it incumbent upon myself to be politically incorrect, let me stick my neck out. The answer is a big NO. Expecting BHU to recover by sacking the V-C is like performing cosmetic surgery on a terminally ill patient, hoping it will result in his recovery.

To blame the present V-C alone for a faltering university would not only be unjust to him but would also be a great disservice to BHU.

What ails BHU?

We need to travel back in time to understand that the genesis of the present day problems plaguing BHU lies at the door of late Arjun Singh, the HRD minister in UPA-1. Although it is the President of India who, in his capacity as Visitor to the university, appoints the V-C it is no secret that the appointment is influenced by the HRD minister.

It was Singh's short-sightedness which ensured that locals hailing from Varanasi or nearby regions were installed in the university. So, a position held by giants like Malaviya, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Acharya Narendra Dev and Trigun Sen passed on to incompetent people who began using BHU for their selfish interests.

These V-Cs, in turn, ensured that casteism, the bane of the region, which had till then been secondary in managing university affairs soon became prominent. Caste became the primary criteria for appointments in the university. Some of the pedestrian appointments however also raise suspicions for factors other than caste playing a critical role. Merit fell by the wayside as anyone with the correct caste credentials got appointed.

Ironically, Malaviya, the visionary that he was, had roamed the country inviting the best talent, irrespective of their caste credentials to join BHU. The university boasted of educationists like Jadunath Sarkar, Hazariprasad Dwivedi, Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar to name a few. When I joined BHU for my masters in the late 1990s and then during my PhD, one could hear innumerable languages being spoken on campus.

This national character was BHU’s strength. Rampant casteism and regionalism indulged in by successive V-Cs since 2005 has now resulted in the catchment area for students and teachers being restricted to eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar. Any unfortunate soul fortuitously breaking these restrictions is hounded out ruthlessly.

Recently, two teachers in the English department reportedly scampered to the safety of their home state of West Bengal after continuous harassment by their colleagues. I consider myself fortunate to have become a faculty member before this downturn started. I shudder to think of the fate of unaffiliated people like myself in these caste affiliating times. Those who criticise the present V-C for casteism need to look into the appointments from 2005-2014 before doing so.

It was perhaps a realisation of these sub-standard appointments that forced the V-C to appear on TV channels baying for blood. The university PRO, famous for sycophancy across regimes, prefers Bhojpuri as the language of communication.

Unfortunately for the university, this caste pool in recent times has been further reduced to the appointments of progenies of faculty. Recently, it was rumoured that a husband-wife duo serving in the Institute of Medical Sciences (IMS) managed to get four of their family members appointed at IMS. The villain of the entire molestation fiasco, BHU's chief proctor, since resigned, is reputed to have managed three appointments for the family. The list of such familial appointments is long and tedious. Incidentally, the appointment of the wife of Registrar a few years ago was under a cloud for breaking of norms of appointment.

The villain of the entire molestation fiasco, the chief proctor, has since resigned and is reputed to have managed three appointments for the family. The list of such familial appointments is long and tedious. Incidentally, the appointment of the registrar's wife a few years ago was under a cloud for breaking of norms of appointment.

Resultantly, the university has become a promoter of mediocrity. The famed law faculty which at any given point in time had famed national academicians is now home to teachers busy in forming cliques of students and disrupting the academic atmosphere by 'utilising' these students in exchange for absence from classes and good numbers. A professor of the faculty, known for his proximity to the V-C and member of the erstwhile PB, is famous for 'teaching' by projecting his handwritten notes.

Let's admit it, Malaviya's dream is turning sour. And all of us, the teaching faculty at BHU, are accountable for our failure to maintain the high standards set by the great man. We need to introspect. Why are we busy indulging in petty politics, hanging around the central office, pampering the bloated ego of administrators for a place in some useless committee which only allows us the leverage to stay away from the classes?

How many have even bothered to visit the central library and read up? Why has the library remained without a permanent librarian for decades and why is it in shambles? Why do doctors in IMS unashamedly take non-practising allowance and then run private practices at home? Where are our morals? Why do we pay only lip service to Malaviya's vision?

Higher education is in a mess, be it BHU, AMU, JNU or DU. It requires a herculean task to clean the Augean stables. Otherwise, the demographic dividend Modi keeps referring to will backfire on the nation. Uneducated and moral-less youth are a recipe for disaster. The time to start mending is now. How about starting with BHU?

The author wishes to remain anonymous

Updated Date: Oct 02, 2017 15:16 PM

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