Women students’ unrest in Banaras Hindu University and protests in support of them in several other campuses appear to have raised eyebrows in Delhi. For the rulers, the situation getting out of hand in the Prime Minister Modi’s constituency is unacceptable. Mr. Modi and the BJP president, Mr. Amit Shah, have taken serious note and telephoned the Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, who has ordered an inquiry into the incidents. The students were reportedly caned by the police.
That the protests happened in Varanasi on a day Mr. Modi was visiting his constituency has caused concern, according to a senior Minister, Mr. Nitin Gadkari. “That the incidents happened in the P.M’s Lok Sabha constituency on a day he was on a visit there is extremely unfortunate. Any amount of regret expressed is inadequate”, he told reporters in Delhi. He added that an inquiry had been initiated to see why the situation went out of control. The report of Divisional Commissioner has blamed University administration.
Violence erupted after a student had been sexually harassed and students seeking to meet the Vice-Chancellor had been stopped by security guards. The Times of India comments: “The university’s argument that the world outside the BHU is unsafe for women and its discriminatory rules for women students are meant to ensure their safety smacks of paternalism. …If the university is so concerned, it would do better to convey its fears to the district administration and police and ask them to take steps. It is goons who harass women who need to be reined in, not the women”.
Even as the Congress demanded that the Vice-Chancellor be sacked and a judicial inquiry ordered, First Information reports were recorded against more than 1,000 unidentified students who have been booked for violence, arson and disrupting government work on the BHU campus. The District Magistrate ordered the transfer of additional city magistrate for alleged failure to control violence on the campus.
Tension escalated in Banaras Hindu University on Sunday, September 24, after a police crackdown on students who were protesting against a case of molestation of a woman and students demanding action against the culprits. But could it be a new trigger of sorts? Several students, most of them women, and policemen were injured when guards and policemen caned them outside the Vice-Chancellor’s house and even the main entrance to the 100-year-old university. The university has been closed until October 2 to subdue tension.
Women students in Aligarh have been protesting vehemently against the police action against Varanasi students. They are angry as they insist that there need be no discrimination on grounds of gender or faith. Students in Dehra Dun also protested in support of the Varanasi students. The trouble started on September 21 when a student of visual arts was alleged to have been molested. Students said that instead of punishing the goons, the hostel warden was asking why the girl was late in returning to the hostel after sunset. This angered the students as the guards and police outside the Vice-Chancellor’s house did not try to catch the goons. Police alleged that people from outside the university were protesting at the campus gate and the protesters had engaged in stone throwing in which seven constables were injured. The caning followed that.
Mr. Raj Babbar, president of the U.P. Congress Committee, and Mr. P.L.Punia, a former MP, were arrested while trying to reach the campus. Meanwhile, student union elections in several campuses, including Delhi, Hyderabad, Jawaharlal Nehru University and colleges in Rajasthan, have upset right-wing calculations. In Delhi the pro-Congress National Students’Union has defeated the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarathi Parishad in the crucial post of union president, but conceded the office of secretary and joint secretary. In the University of Hyderabad and Jawaharlal University, the ABVP appears to be in retreat. The Students Federation of India has won office of student president in 21 colleges, four of them uncontested
While the BJP insists that the student unions do not determine the national political climate, the Congress and other parties see winds of change. Saffron elements were at one time riding high with aggressive moves on the social media. Young whiz kids and students, who were supporting them a few years ago when Mr. Narendra Modi rose to centre stage in New Delhi and several States, are possibly rethinking their options. They may not yet be bothering too much about any particular Opposition party being an available alternative.
Campus after campus appears to be downsizing the Saffron people’s jargon. Dalit students appear to feel let down when it was alleged that they were unpatriotic. The young people and students believe that nobody has a monopoly over patriotism.
The young people, men and women, believe that they could lay down the national and regional agenda as has happened in country after country for a hundred years or so.
Leftist elements lost ground in West Bengal more than 10 years ago as they indulged in loot and lawlessness for 34 years with zero development to show. Smart rhetoric did not allow them to survive as Mamta Banerjee presented an alternative to the Congress as well as Communists and even Maoists. The BJP believes that it is making inroads into her bastion.
Lalit Sethi is a Journalist of long standing and a commentator on Political and Social Issues.