Professor Girish Chandra Tripathi, according to his own admission, became the Vice Chancellor of nationally important Banares Hindu University because of his service to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the ideological parent of the ruling dispensation of Bhartiya Janaata Party in India. He is not particularly known for his academic credentials. In a question asked to the Allahabad University, under the Right to Information Act, the Department of Economics, where he used to teach before coming to BHU, says that no records are available about Tripathi’s research activities, papers published or students who carried out research under his guidance.
So, it came as no surprise that he restricted the hours of a 24 hours cyber library started on campus by his predecessor, as he believed that students use the facility to watch pornography. His further decisions shocked even the most conservative of citizens. Girls’ hostel gates were to shut at 6 pm; they were not to use mobile phones after 8 pm; they would not be served non-vegetarian food in mess and worse; would be required to sign a statement declaring that they’ll not participate in any protest against the university. The VC justified these rules saying they would make them ‘cultured.’ It is noteworthy that male students were not subjected to any of these restrictions. This has allowed breeding of a culture on campus which has become oppressive for the girls. On the other hand, indulging in misdemeanor by truant men is ignored or incidents are covered up. It is unclear what kind of ‘culture’ the VC wants to promote. One thing is clear – the overbearing presence of Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of RSS and its ever growing shakhas have failed to make it a safer campus for girls and women.
In spite of iron clad system for security of girls, a Bachelor of Fine Arts student was sexually harassed by motorcycle borne youth on campus on the evening, around 6 pm on 21 September. Security guard posted near the site of incident did not come forward to help. Further, the Proctor and the Dean shamed the student by admonishing her for being out so late. The attitude of authorities provoked a backlash and the next day hundreds, if not thousand, female students were protesting at the main gate, defying the statement all of them had signed for keeping away from such an activity.
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was visiting his constituency of Varanasi, home to this University, when the protests broke out. Within hours of his departure on 23 September, there was a crackdown by male police on female students, which is illegal, in the dark hours close to midnight. Number of students received bruises, and some even had to be admitted to Trauma centre of the University hospital.
A mockery was made of the right to free speech and dissent, guaranteed by the country’s Constitution. The arrogant administration tried to browbeat the students. Professor Tripathi’s instinctive RSS values tell him to use brute force to suppress any opposition. He doesn’t believe in niceties like dialogue. To his RSS trained mind, dialogue will signal weakness and disciplining the students by punishing them, strength. The haughty power has blinded him.
University authorities blamed the ‘outsiders, mischief makers, propagandists and anti-national’ elements for instigating the protests. Obviously they were more worried about the outsiders and miscreants who infiltrated the protests than the ones who were responsible for sexual harassment on campus. For them, the protests defamed the University more than any molestation. The initial reaction was to cover up the molestation attempt.
There were further lathicharges on protesting students twice on 24 September, during the day, on campus. The students have been asked to proceed on an early Dussehra holiday and vacate their hostels. What can be a more irresponsible act by the University administration than this? The girl students, who are not feeling safe on campus, are being evicted from the safe environment of their hostels and without any travel bookings, being asked to leave for home.
Tripathi who first prayed to Lord Vishwanath in the famous Vishwanath temple in city and then in a temple by the same name on campus, before taking over as VC three years back, must now realize that running a university is more difficult than running a teachers’ union or a RSS shakha. But it doesn’t look like that Lord Vishwanath is going to stand by him for very long. It should dawn upon him that his days are numbered. This anti-academic, regressive, arrogant person has vitiated the atmosphere of BHU and the University needs to be saved from its own VC. Even to begin with, he was an inappropriate choice to head such a prestigious university. He was further thrust upon the Indian Institute of Technology on campus as its Chairman, Board of Governors, even though his name was not among the panel of five recommended by the Board to the then Minister for Human Resources Development Smriti Irani. Tripathi has used his association with RSS to occupy high offices for which he is not competent enough.
But the BJP is not known for admitting mistakes. The students will have to make the government realise it and force the exit of Tripathi.