Students are a window into the future of a country. They symbolise and reflect the values imparted by our society and the current education system. Therefore, student movements are important in todays day and age.
I have often witnessed politicians advocating that students are the future of the country and that democratic education is a must. The only problem with that statement is that education is futile if the masses cannot take advantage of it practically. There is no point in educating them about a system that rarely works. The student agitations across the country are growing as more and more students line up to fight for their rights.
In the three years that the BJP government has been in power, our country has witnessed a total of four notable political protests staged by students with the fifth underway. The protests staged across the country by students of different universities were silenced by the BJP regime.
Whether it be the issue of suicides by Dalit students, or sedition charges levied against them, or the appointment of unfit faculty members, or the issue of women’s safety, the agitation of students is visible as the cracks in our faulty system lie exposed. The hypocrisy of the government becomes evident where on one side it takes the initiative to democratically educate the students, and on the other side curbs the voice of the student who actually exercises his rights.
The current bone of contention is a series of protests led by the students of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU). The student who was molested by two boys on a bike in front of the college gate approached the Vice-Chancellor of BHU demanding a probe into the issue and requested better security measures be put in place for the women enrolled in the university. Unsurprisingly, the Vice-Chancellor Mr. Girish Chandra Tripathi dismissed the case rather unsympathetically and resorted to victim shaming instead. In a dry, sardonic fashion, he asked the students to focus on their studies and prepare for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s arrival the next day.
This outright rejection to address women safety issues on campus lead to massive protests by the infuriated women of the university. The student outcry took an ugly turn when the violence broke out and the police, in order to control the crowd, resorted to a lathi charge and the use of tear gas. This incident is fifth in the line of a series of crackdown on institutions where democratic values are high among students. While the violence incited by students or other nefarious elements remains under question, the sweeping move to register FIRs against over a thousand students seems difficult to digest considering that the BJP government is known to threaten students if they voice political concerns.
The current conflict has brought certain issues to the foreground yet again; one being the resistance to student bodies participating in the everyday democratic functioning of the country, and the other being women’s safety across India. The amalgam of these two issues has finally broken the surface and highlighted the underlying hypocrisy and misogyny that is endemic to the incumbent government.
Victim-blaming and the refusal to register a complaint of sexual harassment against women are both condemned by the law, in theory, but not in practice. The efforts taken by the government to educate and sensitise people to the cause of women are lost if the administrative bodies of reputed institutions refuse to acknowledge incidents of women harassment in light of a Prime Minister visiting his constituency.
The attitude of the Vice-Chancellor is appalling and represents the general attitude of men towards women in our society. It is codified that outrage to a woman’s modesty is a punishable offense. Moreover, the refusal to take note of such an event is also a punishable offense. Yet the authorities deny that any formal complaint was lodged.
The bigotry of the Indian media is conspicuous in their inaction to break a story until the situation stems to the point where violence breaks out. Several notable news channels refused to report the BHU issue as they feared they would face the same fate as Hindustan Times Editor Bobby Gosh. After the news broke across all media platforms, Yogi Adityanath was quick to respond by means of a judicial probe to look into the events that followed the outcry. Meanwhile, the Vice-Chancellor denies that the police had baton-charged protesting students, and the Varanasi police accuse the university administration of the chaos caused.
Amidst the blame game, numerous accounts given by several media outlets – some like Dainik Jagran even shaming the victims – makes it hard to decipher what the truth is. The common man can only hope for the truth to surface against all odds as these protests have once again opened the Pandora’s box that is women’s and students’ safety in India. Sadly ‘contradiction’ is the cynosure of this millennium, the non-alignment of thought and action are commonplace in our society today. Throughout our formative years, the students are counseled to be part of the democratic functioning of our government, but when they actually exercise those rights they are met with heavy resistance and often violence.
I believe this incident is a glimpse into the future of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is set to meet protests everywhere he goes.
The author, Vidushi Kala, is a Senior Editor at Indus Dictum. Her work focuses on public policy and legal reform.
Tweet at Vidushi: @kala_masala