The recent developments at Banaras Hindu University underscore the enormous challenge before the state government of ensuring rule of law and maintaining order.
After the death of infants due to a shortage of oxygen at Baba Raghav Das Medical College, Gorakhpur, student protests and police lathi charge at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit came as an embarrassment for the Yogi Adityanath government.
The state government became an object of ridicule on social media and by opposition leaders for the irony of the use of baton charge on students including women during Navratri – even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spoke of “beti bachao”.
Mismanagement of the situation by the state police and the BHU administration during the Prime Minister’s visit left the government red-faced and requiring Modi and BJP president Amit Shah to speak to Adityanath.
So, what exactly happened?
It all began when a student from the visual arts department was groped by two motorcyclists while she was on her way to the hostel in Triveni Complex at around 7pm on 22 September.
A security guard sat on a chair not far from the scene of the incident at the university, and when the student, shaken up, approached him for help, he did not stir from his perch and instead shot back at her asking why she was out after sunset.
The shocked woman then approached the proctor, who turned out to be as insensitive as the security guard and asked her the same question.
A highly placed Varanasi officer saw this response from the two individuals as a big lapse on the part of the security personnel and the proctor.
Confirming that the woman was indeed inappropriately touched on campus, the officer said “timely action was not taken because of which the situation went out of control”.
Asked if there was any provocation from the women for the police to resort to a brutal baton charge, the officer said the matter was under inquiry.
Vice chancellor G C Tripathi said the student was “upset” with the response of the guard and the proctor.
On the curfew hour for women, the vice chancellor said that further down the spot of the incident, there was an amphitheatre where women played basketball and volleyball and returned late. The road itself was a thoroughfare, he explained.
Now back to the victim – on reaching the hostel, the woman recounted her bitter experience to other hostel mates, who decided to sit on a dharna on the morning of 23 September, demanding, among other things, round-the-clock security, CCTV cameras and women security personnel on campus. They also wanted the vice chancellor to come to the site of the dharna and listen to their grievances.
No university official tried to pacify the women of the university, who were joined by women and men from other colleges. The blocking of the Lanka crossing by the protesters forced the district administration to change the route to be taken by the Prime Minister’s cavalcade.
The vice chancellor, who was summoned by the Union Human Resource Development Minister on Tuesday (26 September), said Prime Minister Modi was scheduled to unveil two BHU projects, because of which he had to be present at the programme and could not meet the women.
With only two months left till the end of his term, Professor Tripathi said his absence gave outsiders as well as some wardens and officers scheming against him, the chance to exploit the situation.
“But I did speak to the girl twice assuaging her hurt and even talked to her mother. I believed that the matter was settled,” the vice chancellor said.
Tripathi was wrong in his assessment. The number of protesters swelled and turned restive by late evening, when the vice chancellor decided to “go home”.
The women then decided to march to his lodge to express their anger, but the university’s security personnel attacked them with lathis.
The situation turned ugly, and arson and violence, which began late on Saturday night (23 September), rocked the university until 3am the next day.
Blaming outsiders for hurling petrol bombs and firing in the air, the vice chancellor complained that the district administration had not responded to his request for the use of the police force. Sensing trouble, a posse of paramilitary force officers was deployed at the protest site, apparently by junior-ranked police officers, and they joined the action to control the situation.
On Sunday morning, the administration ordered closure of all colleges till 2 October to contain the trouble.
Later in the day, additional city magistrate Manoj Kumar Singh was transferred. Bhelupur circle officer Vinay Katiyar was shifted to the police accounts department, and the Lanka station officer was sent to the lines.
The district magistrate “advised” the BHU to install CCTV cameras on campus and appoint women security personnel for the safety of girl students. These suggestions were part of the demands made by protesters whom the university official chose not to meet.
The opposition leaders, though, lost no time to fish in troubled waters. Former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav said women were not safe on the BHU campus and their protest was being met with violence.
A delegation of Samajwadi Party workers had to be forcibly stopped from entering the campus.
Uttar Pradesh Congress president Raj Babbar was detained while he was on his way to meet the students on Sunday (25 September). Attacking the vice chancellor, he asked whether Tripathi was the Prime Minister’s bonded labour and if he was required to report to him. “The President of India is the Chancellor of BHU, not the PM. He should have listened to the grievances of girl students instead of behaving like a worker of the Bharatiya Janata Party,” Babbar said.
Where is your anti-Romeo squad? some protesters wanted to know from Chief Minister Adityanath.
The situation at the BHU was described as tense after the arrest of 14 students for their alleged involvement in the violence. Cases have also been registered against 1,200 unknown students. A case under IT Act has also been registered against the Facebook page ‘BHU Buzz’ for “provocative posts”.
On Tuesday (26 September), the Uttar Pradesh government ordered a judicial inquiry into the violence on BHU campus. The government did not say whether a sitting or retired judge will conduct the inquiry.
After the Human Resource Development Ministry summoned the vice chancellor to Delhi, there was speculation that he had been asked to go on leave.
The reactions of the students, and that of the local, state and central administration, indicate that we are far from hearing the last on this matter.