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LUCKNOW: On August 28, a public interest litigation (PIL) petition came up for hearing before the chief justice of India, Dipak Mishra. It was about gender discrimination at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), which celebrated its centenary last year. The petition was about the suspension of eight students of the Mahila Mahavidyalaya, situation on the BHU campus.
It brought to the fore some absurd rules forced exclusively upon women students of the university: no non-veg food in the hostels, no talking on the phone at night, no participation in protests and no venturing out after sunset.
So was the security guard just following the BHU rule book when girl student complained to him that she had been groped by motorcycle-borne men on her way to her hostel and he asked her in reply what she doing out so late?
Archaic and discriminatory rules for BHU girl students in the garb of protection have been grabbing the headlines for over a year now. It is alleged that these rules are being enforced with more alacrity ever since Prof GC Tripathi took over as vice-chancellor three years ago.
The eight students who took their objection to such rules to Supreme Court first approached the Allahabad High Court after they were suspended for demanding that the library stay open round-the-clock for girls. They ran out of money to push their petition and it was lawyer Prashant Bhushan who came to their aid and filed a petition in the Supreme Court, seeking annulment of such rules.
Bhushan, assisted by lawyer Neha Rathi, argue in the Supreme Court that BHU administration does not allow girls to venture out of hostels after 8 pm; make any telephone calls after 10 pm; and wear clothes of their choice. They are not allowed to wear shorts to the mess, and are not allowed access to free wi-fi and indeed Internet in their rooms.
There are no such restrictions for male students. Boys may eat what they want. Girls can’t. They can take part in demonstrations and political debates. Girls can’t. This background to the happenings on the BHU campus last week explains the vehemence of the girls’ protest after the groping incident at the twilight hour last Thursday. It also explains why the administration, including the vice-chancellor, continues to be confounded by the protests. To them, it’s a mountain made out of a molehill.
Or as the vice-chancellor has said, an incident of eve-teasing, not molestation. To the BFA second-year student who was subjected to the groping, it was more than eve-teasing. A stranger’s hand inside her salwar was an intrusion of privacy.
When New Indian Express contacted some MMV hostellers after the flare-up on Saturday, the anger was explosive. “This kind of harassment is routine on this campus. We face discrimination of all sorts. We live a life of isolation,” said one inmate of a hostel in Triveni Sankul. “Our silence is construed as weakness. Enough of ridiculous suggestions and lip service. We can’t be taken for granted anymore,” said an undergrad on the telephone.
“We are not served non-vegetarian food in the hostels. We are not allowed to have even eggs. But boys have no such restrictions. They enjoy everything.” Sermons on decent clothing are delivered every now and then. “We are asked to dress decently to avoid unwanted stares,” said Rachna (name changed) of MMV. “The boys are allowed out till 10 pm. We have to be indoors by 8 pm. They maintain registers for us. It’s not that we want to be out late, but the disparity is humiliating,” said a commerce student.
While girls are supposed to vacate their hostels during holidays and semester breaks, boys are free to stay back.
“We are second-class citizens on this campus,” said Sunaina (name changed). The BHU administration’s only justification for these rules is that they have always been there, and that they are the benefit of the girls. But the irony of such rules is not lost on the girls. “Then how come we weren’t protected on September 21?”
‘Earn while learn’ scheme
After the recent imbroglio on campus, the administration, in a bid to end the crisis of women security personnel in proctorial board, has decided to solicit students’ assistance and make senior girl students of physical education and sports departments as security personnel deployed at the girl hostels on the campus.