Varanasi: The iconic Banaras Hindu University (BHU), which has been hit by student unrest since 21 September following an alleged incident of sexual assault, wore a curfew-like look today but its troubles will not be over as long as campus security is not taken seriously by the university authority.
The 2,700-acre campus has no CCTV surveillance, lights on many streets don't work, the security guards are not above board and 'outsiders' have a free run of the campus. The campus is also battleground for caste groups when rival students don't hesitate to use firearms and sharp-edged weapons. Arson and vandalism are frequent occurrences.
"The campus now wears a curfew-like look," SP (City) Dinesh Kumar Singh told Firstpost on Sunday. "We gather that many students have left for their homes." The university will remain closed till 3 October. But the holidays will not remove the misgivings surrounding security in the campus.
The BHU campus is "guarded" by over 700 security personnel employed by the university. But female students and teachers insist that women are not safe on the campus.
Student violence on the campus has been a frequent occurrence. But crimes against women — even allegations of sexual molestation — have been a recurring complaint.
The ongoing unrest started after an alleged case of sexual molestation. A student of Visual Arts was waylaid by two men on a motorcycle outside Triveni Hostel, just metres from the Proctor's office, and was "sexually molested".
The victim alleged that security guards stood mute spectators. "Reema Di (name changed) ke saath itni battameeji hui aur waha baithe guard aaye hi nahi. Sharam aati hai aise university prashasan par. Wo behosh hogaythi aur abhi bhi sadme me hai (They misbehaved with Reema Di and the guards didn't even come forward to help. Shame on such an university administration. She had fainted and she is still traumatised after that day's incident)," said Rup Agarwal (name changed), a student at the university.
The incident sparked instant protests from female students. They sat on a dharna outside the main gate of the campus demanding that the Vice-Chancellor come in person to meet them. The victim tonsured her head and joined the protest. They also protested against "victim-shaming". V-C Professor G C Tripathi refused to come down to the main gate, saying he would not talk to them "on the streets". Chief proctor O M Singh said the vice-chancellor has "his dignity".
"Kulpati sahib ki bhi apni ek maryada hai aur wo sadak par jakar to chatrao se nahi milenege (The V-C has his own dignity, he won't go to streets to speak to students)," said Singh.
The female students later said that the police ordered an unprovoked lathicharge on them. But District Magistrate Yogeshwar Ram said action against students was taken only after they turned violent. However, the police filed an FIR in the case only on Saturday.
The police ordered the lathicharge at 11.30 pm on 23 September. In retaliation, a few students allegedly pelted stones at the police. Petrol bombs were also hurled at some places in the campus. The Lanka police outpost was torched.
Several girl students sustained injuries and were rushed to the BHU trauma center. They alleged there were no female constables when the lathicharge took place. Shubham Tiwari, a Mass Communication Part 2 student, said some outside elements had joined the protest and that they were the ones who threw stones and hurled petrol bombs at the police.
SP Dinesh Kumar Singh said he tried talking to the "girls" but that their "demands were very weird". On Sunday, Singh said that the university has been ordered to be closed till 3 October for Durga Puja. But it was a no-brainer that the authorities did not want students to be around for the protests to go on.
Talking to 101reporters on Sunday, one of the students took aim at Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Varanasi is Modi's parliamentary constituency. "Ganga maiyaa ki safayi karne aate hai aur jo gandagi ganga ma ki betiyo ko pareshaan kar rahi hai uska kuch nahi. Modiji hamse milne aao (He comes to clean the Ganges but what about those who are violating the daughters of the Ganga? Narendra Modi, come and meet us)," Saumya Pahwa, another student at the campus said. Pahwa added that there isn't a single girl in the university campus who has not been victim of eve-teasing.
"We are not safe on the road while we go to the hostel. No one helps. The guards take a vicarious pleasure watching us getting molested and touched inappropriately by men," she said."Some boys even flash their genitals at us. Our seniors must have digitally raped us many times over."
There is not a single CCTV camera on campus, the students alleged. Female students have repeatedly asked for CCTV cameras to be installed but in vain. Lights on the road leading to Triveni Hostel don't work. The VC, students alleged, says that it will take time to install lights.
Earlier, this year on 24 January, students had protested against "eve-teasing" following which a female cell was constituted on the orders of the V-C. A helpline number 8004922000 was also announced but two days later, an inebriated police constable allegedly eve-teased two female students of IIT-BHU. No action was taken against the accused constable.
A member of the Proctorial Board Professor Shraddha Singh of the Hindi Department said girls were not safe in BHU. "Let alone female students, even teachers like me get eve-teased in the classroom, while driving or just moving about in the campus," she told 101reporters.
Another teacher Professor Mahesh Prasad Ahirwar said scores of incidents of violence have been witnessed in the university in the last two-three years. "Kabhi bhi kahi se bhi ek hujoom sa aata. Maar peet, tod-phod, aagjani karta hai aur chala jata hai (It is like a sudden wave, there is violence, vandalism and then it goes away)" says Prasad. "Check records of the Proctorial Office and you will know everything," he said.
Sources said three rape cases were registered in the last quarter of 2016. The fact of the matter is the sprawling BHU campus is poorly policed despite the large number of security personnel. The police enter the campus only when called by the university authorities.
There is a police outpost in Assi and Lanka areas, right outside the BHU boundary. Only the Proctor and the V-C have the authority to call in the police.
Outsiders have free access because there's the hospital trauma centre and a temple inside the campus. Motorbikes, cars and tractors are a common sight in the university.
"Anyone can enter BHU from any side. No one can stop outsiders and usually it is an outsider who commits crime," Shubham Tiwari said.
A police official, who did not want to named, claimed that this was the first major outrage (case of eve-teasing) witnessed after Yogi Adityanath became the chief minister and that conditions had started to deteriorate during the time of AKhilesh Yadav. Interestingly, the chief minister's Romeo Squads are not to be seen working anymore. In any case, the police are not allowed to enter the campus.
BHU is not overtly political. It has no students union. Students of all political ideologies populate the campus. Even teachers do not have an association like teachers of Delhi University have. But that has not stopped some students and teachers from saying that the V-C is "close to the RSS" and an "appointee" of Modi.
The authors are Uttar Pradesh-based journalists and are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
Updated Date: Sep 25, 2017 16:15 PM