ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Breaking Free

Women students protesting at Banaras Hindu University reflects a wider demand for rights.

It appears that young Indian women do not view higher education as a certificate for marriage any more. The fact that they are willing to come out on the streets, hold hand-painted placards, shout slogans and demand their rights suggests that education is making them ask questions, something the very process of learning is meant to do. But for such questioning, they are being mocked and rebuked, and even beaten back by the police. The recent developments in the 101-year-old Banaras Hindu University (BHU) should surprise no one bar those who go through life with blinkers on. And one of those is surely Girish Chandra Tripathi, the vice chancellor of this central ­university that houses an estimated 10,000 women students. Tripathi believes that the agitation of the women students was “created by outsiders,” ostensibly hostile to Narendra Modi and the current dispensation in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. In press interviews, he spoke of how “innocent and immature minds” were being influenced by these outsiders who “try to make a lie look like the truth.” The “lie” that Tripathi refers to is an incident of sexual molestation on the campus on 21 September. Instead of taking it seriously, the complainant was asked why she was out so late. Apart from such predictable victim-blaming, by dismissing the reasons for their protest, Tripathi and the BHU ­authorities have exposed their misogynistic and patriarchal mindset that denies young women agency, reducing them to puppets who can be manipulated by others.

No one instigated the women students at BHU. It was this attitude of the authorities that provoked them to protest not only about the incident of molestation on the campus, clearly not the first, but a host of other complaints that they had voiced on many previous occasions. These echo similar demands being made by their contemporaries in universities around India. Since 2015, when the group Pinjra Tod (Break the Cage) was formed in Delhi, women university students in Kolkata, Aligarh, Mumbai, Kasargod, Raipur, Jammu and other places have questioned the attitude of university authorities towards them. They have highlighted the absence of parity in the rights granted to male and female students. The former can stay out longer; the latter are literally locked up in their hostels, sometimes as early as 6 pm as in one hostel in BHU. While male students get access to internet, women have had to fight for it. Even something as routine as the choice of food served in the hostels differs between the two sexes.

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Updated On : 11th Oct, 2017
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