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Naive to assume Modi wasn't aware of Banaras students' protest when he was in town, or ruthless lathi-charge after he left

Counterview Desk
About 50 prominent activists attached with the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) have condemned “state repression” on Banaras Hindu University (BHU) women students, who were demanding a sexual-violence free campus, demanding criminal action against BHU’s vice chancellor for his omissions and commissions in the entire episode. Text of the statement:
The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) condemns the Uttar Pradesh government’s violent, cowardly and indefensible crack down on the young women-students led movement in the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) campus, seeking a university space with equal rights for women and freedom from sexual harassment and violence. That the long standing and quite simple demands of the students were not being addressed and in fact survivors of sexual harassment were repeatedly being shamed by the male proctors, even as the identified perpetrators were being allowed to go Scot-free, compelled the students to embark on a peaceful mass protest, in the wake of relentless incidents of sexual harassment on the campus.

Instead of engaging in a dialogue with the agitating students and resolving their basic and genuine grievances, the university authorities led by the vice chancellor (VC), undoubtedly, at the behest of the State government chose to physically brutalize the students, late into the night and again on the next day, by unlawfully unleashing a rabid male police force on women students! We have also learnt from credible sources that the VC and proctors have allowed a group of ‘private security’ inside the campus, who were the first to unleash violence on the students, before the police struck!
While on the one hand, this government prides itself in slogans and schemes of ‘Beti Bachao’ Beti Padhao’; on the other it seeks to curtail the most fundamental freedoms of girls and women in multiple ways by moral policing, privatization, lack of basic amenities, safety and non-resolution of grievances. It is exactly this reality that the ‘brave betis’ of BHU tried to expose through their peaceful protest and demanded amongst other things, a campus where they could take for granted an atmosphere of safety and security from misogynistic oppression and violence and where there would be no arbitrary and discriminative restrictions on them owing to their gender. We salute the courageous struggle of the young women students and express our complete solidarity with them.
The incidents at BHU bring forth two very basic issues; one, the manner of appointments of the vice-chancellors and two, the lack of effective mechanisms for redressal of complaints, especially that of sexual harassment. As a practice, vice-chancellors must be competent, independent and persons of high integrity in academic and social life, committed to constitutional values. What we are instead witnessing is a clear trend of appointment of VCs, such as that of BHU, who are committed to a certain unconstitutional ideology and have charges of corruption and cases pending in the courts! The issue of appointments of VCs must needs to be seriously addressed.
We also completely endorse the demands of the young women students for effective mechanisms and systems in place (such as GSCASH) to seriously and empathetically address grievances / complaints, especially that of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination and violence, in line with the Vishakha Guidelines of the Supreme Court and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. These mechanisms must be formed with the active involvement of the women students, women faculty and well-known, credible and committed women civil society activists.
The BHU episode, after Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Hyderabad Central University (HCU), is yet another stark reminder of the larger challenge of ‘saffronization’ of our Universities at the highest levels, where no less than the vice-chancellors, who are handpicked to serve the ideological and political agendas of the ruling dispensation impose some of the most arbitrary and draconian restrictions, especially on female and politically active students. Actions such as limiting library hours, early closure of college gates, curbs on late-evening usage of mobile phones by women students, embargo on serving of non-vegetarian food, coercing students to sign affidavits not to participate in political activity, all reek of the patriarchal and regressive mindset of the BHU VC, defeating the scientific and secular temper of our Constitution.
It would be naive to assume that the Prime Minister, in whose constituency the university is situated, was neither aware of the student’s protest when he was in town, nor of the ruthless lathi-charge which took place, soon after he left Banaras! His regular route was in fact changed, to avoid his interface with the protestors at BHU! We are appalled that the university authorities have not only failed in discharging their duties of ensuring a safe campus for the girl students and considering their complaints promptly and seriously; they have in fact been imposing illogical restrictions and playing a blame game of naming ‘outsiders’ and shaming insiders, instead of dealing sternly with those who violate the rights of girl students. They are also clearly responsible for letting the police inside the campus, facilitating the repression and registering en masse 1,000 FIRs on the students!
We strongly feel and demand that an FIR must be filed against Mr Girish Chandra Tripathi, the vice-chancellor of BHU, for all the omissions and commissions in this episode. Besides, Mr Tripathi, who is singularly responsible on behalf of the university to allow the situation to deteriorate must be removed with immediate effect, both on ethical and legal grounds!
We also think the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh owes a public apology to the hundreds of girls for the inaction and damage that has been caused, because of his government. FIRs against all students must be dropped unconditionally and instead FIRs must be filed against senior police and administrative officials for directing a lathi-charge on the students. Injured students must be compensated for the physical and mental trauma.
The university must immediately initiate a process of dialogue with the students and act upon their demands, ensuring their education within the campus in a safe and dignified manner. In particular, the university must immediately deploy female security personnel in sufficient strength and constitute GSCASH committees with the active involvement of the women students, women faculty and well-known, credible and committed women civil society activists.
Teesta Setalvad

We also condemn the 10 hrs arbitrary and unlawful detention of well-known journalist and human rights activist Teesta Setalvad, who was in Banaras on Monday to attend a pre-committed youth training event and categorically stated to the police that she had no plan to visit BHU. It is indeed reprehensible that the government chooses to detain and / or arrest anyone, in an unconstitutional manner, without any sufficient ground and in this case Teesta, since she rightly and lawfully refused to sign a bond undertaking that she would not enter the BHU campus. Her late night release with a warning to leave Banaras immediately and not enter BHU is also unlawful and condemnable. We think the political and legal impunity of the present government to indulge in such arbitrary actions, one after the other, in a relentless and remorseless manner, will cost it dearly.
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Signatories include:
Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA)
Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS)
Prafulla Samantara, Lok Shakti Abhiyan
Binayak Sen and Kavita Srivastava, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)
Others

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