New Delhi: Banaras Hindu University, which has recently been in news for all the wrong reaons, seems to be a tinderbox waiting to explode. In August this year, a male student was gangraped by five at the university campus, the university authorities, alleged the student, tried to hush things up. Earlier this month, a group of BHU students brutally attacked an administrative official of the university and vandalised an office.
Which brings us to the obvious question. What's ailing Banaras Hindu University?
Students of the university in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh have accused the university administration of turning the educational institution into an RSS shakha. They feel that the college authorities are curbing freedom of speech and expression on campus by "witch-hunting" students voicing dissent. The varsity administration has also been accused of gender discrimination by putting strict 'restrictions' on the movement of girls on the campus and not serving non-veg food in the girls hostels.
"All the voices of dissent have been systematically repressed by the university administration. Before Girish Chandra Tripathi was appointed Vice-Chancellor in November 2014, the university's cyber library used to be open 24x7. Days before his joining, there was a clash between two groups of students and the atmosphere on the campus didn't allow the library to be kept open through the night. We thought of it as a temporary measure. When the situation got normal, the administration announced that the library will open from 8 in the morning till 8 in the evening," Shantanu Singh Gaur, an undergraduate student at BHU, told ScoopWhoop News.
Protests over library hours
According to Gaur, the announcement evoked protests from the students. Some of the students began studying under the street lights inside the campus as a mark of protest. In March 2015, the university extended the functioning hours of library to 15 hours. With the onset of exams in May, the administration agreed to go back to previous 24x7 schedule.
"But it was only for a month. When the session resumed in July, the library hours were reduced to 15 hours again. We led a protest against the university's direction. When we approached the officials with our demand, we were informed that there was no use in keeping the library open 24x7. The officials also told us that students watch porn in the library and use it for 'wrong' purposes'," he said.
For months, the reminders to the administration regarding library hours continued. On 18th May 2016, Gaur along with other eight students went on a hunger strike against the university's obstinacy. Five days later, the nine students were suspended from the university, where student politics is banned since two decades. On the midnight of 25th May, hundreds of policemen and personnel of UP's Provincial Armed Constabulary entered the campus and arrested the students observing hunger strike.
"We were released on 26th May and we decided to challenge the suspension in Allahabad High Court. On hearing our petition, the court castigated BHU administration for treating us like criminals," Gaur said.
'Safety' of girls
Women students of the University feel that the BHU have repeatedly complained about the stringent moral policing they are subjected to. "The girls have to reach there hostel before 8 PM, otherwise they'll be suspended. They can't wear skirts and short clothes. The mess in the girls hostel does not cook non-veg food anymore. If the hostel warden or hostel coordinator finds a girl using her mobile phone after 10 in the night, they will call our parents and tell them that your daughter is doing wrong things in the campus and bringing 'shame' to your name," a girl student from BHU's MMV Hostel Complex, told ScoopWhoop News. She refused to give her name.
The girl student also said they are "continuously policed" by the hostel authorities if they fail to comply with the hostel rules.
Vikas Singh, a PhD student of political science at BHU and a state president of Congress's student wing National Students Union of India (NSUI), was also part of the protests for 24x7 library hours. According to Singh, the university's refusal to keep the library open for 24 hours is rooted in the administration's "patriarchal" and "misogynistic" understanding of the society.
"They don't want girls to come out in the night and read in the library fearing something might happen to them. It's an upper caste Brahminical view of the university's administrators who think of women as a docile entity who doesn't have her independent thinking and agency," Singh, who continues to remain suspended from the university, told ScoopWhoop News.
Singh argues the girl students in the university, particularly those living in hostels, are "easily repressed" by the "diktats" of the administration. They are officially made to sign a declaration before admission that they won't participate in any kind of protest or demonstration. No such declaration is signed by the boys.
A reply to an RTI query seeking details about admissions, a copy of which is with ScoopWhoop News, also clarifies the mandatory signing of the written declaration.
MMV Hostel Coordinator, Professor Dr. Neelam Atri acknowledges that the undertaking signed by girl students to not participate in protest and demonstration violates their constitutional right.
"The rule of signing undertakings was already present when I became a hostel coordinator. But I assure that I'll be scrapping this rule immediately. There's no need for it."
Established in 1916 by Hindu Mahasabha founder Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, BHU is Asia's one of the largest residential universities. Among its notable alumni include famous Indian poet and father of Bollywood Star Amitabh Bachchan, Harivansh Rai Bachchan and the versatile Bhupen Hazarika. The alumni also include ideologue and second Sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, who received his Masters in Science from BHU in 1927.
As per the figures given by BHU Vice-Chancellor G C Tripathi, around 40,000 students are enrolled in the university, pursuing different courses. Around 24,000 students, both boys and girls, stay in the hostels.
"I haven't received a single complaint from any of the girl students. Students can have veg and non-veg food both as per their liking. This entire propaganda machinery is run by those who tried to come from JNU and Jadavpur University to ruin the campus atmosphere. These are the same people who say Kashmir is not integral part of India and say there's nothing wrong in eating beef. At BHU, we teach students about values, theories and essentials of politics. However, we don't allow it to become a platform to practice politics. Neither for ABVP, nor for Leftists," Tripathi, who's been a longtime member of RSS, told ScoopWhoop News.
However, students allege that RSS Shakhas are functional in various hostels of the campus. They show pictures of students lined up and taking part in various activities under the saffron flag in the hostel lawns.
VC Tripathi denied having any information about such an event.
On the question of library hours, Tripathi argues that the demand for 24x7 library is not "genuine" and "irrational."
"Where in the country do we have library open for 24 hours? We haven't made a new law. The students who are raising the issue of library have never been to library. Those who want to read can study in their hostels as Wi-Fi facilities are available in the common halls of the hostels. We don't have the required staff to keep the library operational for 24 hours," Tripathi said.
However, the girls maintain that there are no Wi-Fi facilities in their hostels. While hostel administration says that not all the girls' hostels have Wi-Fi facilities, BHU officials said installation of the internet facilities is in "process" and will be completed "within two to four months."
"There's clear cut difference in attitude of administration towards girls. There's an unwritten rule being enforced by the hostel wardens and coordinators under which we are being denied WiFi and non-veg food in the hostels. We have to go out to access the internet if we aren't back before 8 in the evening, we will be suspended. It's an RSS agenda," a women hostel resident at BHU, told ScoopWhoop News.
Asked if his affiliation with RSS is shadowing his functioning as an administrator as alleged by the students, Tripathi rued "why is my RSS connection being brought up at this point of time of his career."
"What's wrong with being a member of RSS. The government has members who have been part of RSS. Why haven't I been asked this question when I was working as a Professor for decades. Staying in hostel is not compulsory. If a student cannot comply with the rules of hostel, he/she is free to rent a place outside the university," Prof G C Tripathi added.
Why isn't non-vegetarian food served in the hostel mess?
Hostel Coordinator Professor Atri said "60-70 per cent of students pursuing education in the university come from low-income backgrounds. At the time of admission, we ask students what kind of food they want to have. If we serve the non-veg food in the mess, it increases the mess charges of a student. So we try to avoid it and lessen the expenses."
"Also, for the long time in BHU's history, non-veg food was not allowed inside the campus," Professor Atri, who teaches Botany in the university, said.
"We have to be extra careful in the case of girl students. BHU is not JNU where outsiders are not allowed. We have a hospital and a temple inside the campus. So, the outsiders are always present on the campus. Moreover, we have undergraduate girl students in the campus who are outside from their school environment for the first time. They are not as mature as a girl doing her Masters. Will anyone wish to admit his sister or daughter in a place where girls have freedom to roam till 12 or 1 in the night?" Professor Atri asked.
The reality and facts on the ground, Professor Atri continued, determine the rules and regulations formulated by the university.
"There's a hostile environment for the women in this country. Our motive is to discipline a student and ensure her safety and security on the campus," she added.