Could you imagine if your country’s leader chose to visit a cow health camp over attending a women’s protest on sexual harassment? Well, this is the reality for the students at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in Varanasi, India.
On September 23rd, a student in her third year at the university was sexually harassed by two men on a motorcycle when she was returning to her hostel (which act as dormitories for these students). The student immediately reported what happened to the proctorial board’s security personnel only to be shamed by them. They questioned her motives for being out past sundown rather than helping her through the traumatic incident she had just experienced.
When the student returned to her hostel, she shared what had happened with her roommates. Enraged, the women decided to start a protest at the university the following day. Both men and women showed up to show support. This happened to be the beginning of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Varanasi. Instead of making an appearance at the protest in support of the cause, Modi had his route through the city completely changed in order to avoid coming into contact with the protesters.
Instead of attending a meaningful protest, the PM spent his time inaugurating cow health camps and sewage pits. BHU’s Vice-Chancellor (VC) Girish Chandra Tripathi believes that the protest was politically motivated to hinder Modi’s visit. There is no logic behind this belief, and no evidence, either. These people had every right to protest where and when they did.
The students at the protest have many demands for the university. They desire 24/7 security, better lighting on roads that lead to women’s hostels, CCTV surveillance, inclusion of women security personnel, and the formation of a gender sensitization committee. They also wished for the VC to meet them at the protest and speak to the media, but that never happened. These peaceful protesters were pleading for safety.
Apparently the protesters were not peaceful enough, however, because after they blocked the gate to the VC’s lodge, police resorted to lathicharge to handle the students. Lathicharge, or baton charge, is a fear tactic where police violently charge at the crowd with their batons, hoping that the fear of pain will cause the crowd to disperse. Many women were injured because of this decision, and activists are condemning the police for their uncalled actions.
The university closed after the protest and reopened October 2nd. However, the VC has gone on an “indefinite leave” amid well-justified accusations of mishandling student protests and victim-shaming girl students.
There is still no word on how PM Modi is expected to handle this situation in the future, but for now, we can all hope that the woman who was harassed, along with the entire population of BHU, will see justice for the wrongdoings against them.
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