‘We are normal girls fighting for our rights. Our battle is not political’

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Manisha Roy, who hails from Ramgarh in Jharkhand, is a first year student of MA Hindi at BHU. She had pursued BA at the same university. She narrates her experiences at the campus in an interview to Ridhima Malhotra and Mudit Mathur

Edited excerpts from an interview •

Manisha.BHU
Manisha Roy – BHU student

Why have you stayed back in Varanasi during the vacation?

“All students in the hostels were asked to vacate immediately without prior notice. During the protest, I had ran for my safety when the lathicharge happened. I lost consciousness and was rushed to the emergency room by my friends. When I reached my hostel after being discharged, I wasn’t allowed by the security to get inside. No body was being allowed to go in. Only the girls who were getting out with their luggage to go home were being let out. I was barefoot as I had lost my slippers while running to escape the lathicharge. They did’nt even allow me to go in to take my slippers, forget my luggage or anything else. So I stayed back at a friend’s place.”

Why did such a huge protest by hundreds of students take place after a girl was sexually harassed?

“There is nothing new about sexual harassment in BHU campus. Ask any girl and she would have faced it. This time a girl student was molested, not just teased as some people are saying. She was touched inappropriately by men on a bike in the campus premises. When she complained, she was blamed for venturing out after 6 PM. The girls are angry. We have reached a saturation point. Fingers are always pointed at us for dressing the wrong way or being too demanding or not staying within our so-called limits. We need a safe and secure campus and no body has so far given it to us.”

Did you try to sort out these issues amicably with the administration?

“The administration doesn’t want to do anything for the benefit of female students. The authorities here are misogynistic. We have been demanding many basic facilities for a long time but our complaints have fallen on deaf ears. For instance, there are some dark stretches of roads in the campus premises. Taking advantage of that, some boys on scooties and bikes often touch girl students inappropriately and speed away. It’s so dark that one cant even note down the vehicle’s registration number. So many incidents have taken place over many years but proper lighting at the campus is still missing. We have put forward our grievances many a time but instead of being heard, we are lectured on morality and sent to our hostels.”

Why would you say that the BHU authorities are misogynistic?

“There is a lot of evidence for that. There are more facilities for male students and less for girls — we are not served non-vegetarian food unlike the boys, our hostels have unbelievable curfew timings while boys can roam around till late, in some hostels girls are not even allowed to talk on their phones after 10 PM. They believe that girls don’t need wi-fi and libraries as much as boys do. Our hostel wardens humiliate us if we wear knee-length shorts. Our Vice Chancellor Girish Tripathi had once told us at a meeting that Indian sabhyata is in the hands of girls, not boys, and an ideal Indian girl is one who believes that her brother’s future is more important than hers! Can you believe it?”

Do other faculty members also say things like that?

“Not all of them but many of them are also very sexist. Many hostel wardens humiliate women for their choice of clothing. Our male friends and boyfriends are pulled up but not the men who harass us. One of our teachers once told us that women who want rights over their bodies should start roaming around naked! The atmosphere is quite suffocating for women.”

What about students’ bodies? Why dint they take up these issues?

“Student unions are not allowed in BHU. There have been demands for allowing student body elections but they are stifled.”

UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath has said that there are reports that ‘anti-social elements’ were behind these protests. It is also being alleged that many girl students came from other cities.

“There is no substance to such allegations. Every person who was protesting was from BHU. Is it possible for hundreds of students to come to the campus unnoticed and stay inside hostels? If they believe that the protesters were outsiders, then why has FIR been filed against 1000 BHU students? There is so much video evidence of the protest. So many students made videos and they are all available on social media. They must investigate by cross checking every single student in the videos with their pictures in admission records.”

Why did the students get violent?

“The students didn’t get violent at all. We were simply protesting, raising slogans and demanding that the V-C meet us and listen to our grievances. We refused to disperse. The lathicharge was unprovoked. In fact, Proctor O N Singh, who has now resigned, ordered the lathicharge on students protesting outside the V-C’s residence. He asked the police to beat them up and was present when the police was mercilessly beating up the students.”

Are you happy that a woman faculty member has been made Proctor now? She has made some statements in favour of students.

“Well, such a big incident has happened. It is quite obvious that positive statements will be made. I don’t know her personally and only time will tell whether she performs for students’ benefit.”

Do you think BHU’s affairs taking a political overtone will help your cause?

“Let me make one thing clear. Our movement is not political. We are normal girls who want to live normal lives. We stood up for our basic rights and freedoms. It’s not us who have politicised this issue. Had they listened to us earlier such furore wouldn’t have taken place in the first place. This matter is being deliberately being given a political angle to divert from the real issues.”

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