Following the incident of lathi charge by the police on female students protesting against molestation of a girl in campus, the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and district administration are allegedly identifying and targeting certain politically active progressive groups that keep raising voices for democracy and women safety, equality and rights on the campus.
The Uttar Pradesh police has issued summons to 10 students involved in the protest, citing various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including attempt to murder. Seven more students have been called for questioning to the Crime Branch, which is probing the incident of violence.
An FIR had been lodged at the Lanka police station in Varanasi under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 148(rioting with armed weapons, 307 (attempt to murder), 353 (criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of duties), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house).
Accusing the administration of targeting them, Priyesh Pandey, a third-year Arts student, who was among those who received a notice, said he along with six others is being targeted for his democratic activism on the campus.
Among the 17 students who have been sent notices, as many as seven are associated with the ‘Joint Action Committee’ – a platform of student outfits – that according to them is a targeted group.
“We were demanding a safe and peaceful campus, and the BHU and district administrations responded to our legitimate demands by slapping notices against us. They had tried to implicate us in criminal cases and suppress our democratic voices earlier as well” Pandey told NewsClick.
An FIR under several sections of IPC was lodged against nine students, including Pandey, in May 2016 for demanding that the library, which gets closed at 11 pm, be kept open throughout the night.
“Cases were lodged against us and we were suspended for two academic sessions,” he said.
They were singled out once again and suspended for an indefinite period after a fight broke out between two students groups at the Dhanvantri Hostel on 31st August, 2016. At that time too, the group was booked for rioting, arson and attempt to murder. They got relief on 4th May this year when the Supreme Court not only quashed all cases against them but also directed the university to conduct their final examinations.
The group has seven students from the undergraduate level, one from postgraduate, and the rest are research scholars.
“In the August violence, we were not even present at the spot,” said Pandey.
Six of the nine targeted students have been summoned for questioning by the Crime Branch. In addition to the criminal cases, three of the six have also been sent a separate notice under Section 66 of the Information and Technology Act for running a Facebook page called ‘BHU Buzz’.
In a separate FIR lodged against the page, the police has said that it has been used to instigate students to indulge in violence during the protest.
Meanwhile, the police is yet to find any leads in the molestation case of the fine arts student, which had triggered the outrage and protests culminating in the aforementioned lathicharge.
Dhananjay Tripathi, an Ayurveda Ph.D scholar at BHU, who is part of the targeted group, described the police action as arbitrary.
“I don't run any page for BHU on Facebook except my own profile. I have been active on campus raising several civil society issues since 2002 but don’t have a single case against me,” said Tripathi.
Varanasi Superintendent of Police (Crime) Gyanendra Nath Prasad admitted that students have been served notices after considering their past controversies on the campus, involvement in controversial events, and on the basis of intelligence inputs.
There is another students’ group called ‘Students for Change’ (SFC) at IIT-BHU that allegedly always remains on the radar of the university administration. On 26th September, 2017, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, in tweet asked the UP government to investigate SFC as “left-wing loony group” that could be responsible for the uprising on campus.
The group was formed in 2015 to discuss social and democratic issues. “There is an influence of right-wing ideologies here and attempts are made to suppress progressive voices that talk about democracy on the campus,” Swati, a fourth-year B.Tech student at IIT-BHU and a member of the SFC, told NewsClick. She also accused the administration of targeting SFC members for raising voices of dissent. The group has recently launched a ‘Disobedience Movement’ wherein girls in IIT-BHU are not following patriarchal hostel rules.
“Our president, secretary and co-secretary have been slapped notices by the director who has alleged that we are instigating girl students not to follow hostel rules. Although we have not got any notice related to the recent violence, our group keeps getting notices at different occasions for different activities. They try their best to suppress our voice,” she added.
Talking about the violence following the police crackdown on a peaceful protest, she said that it was not an outburst against a single incident. “The movement was building up and took the shape of an uprising that has to a great extent changed the discourse of the university. Now, we feel comparatively safer on the campus,” she said.
Refusing to accept that the campus can be made secure by installing street lights and CCTV cameras, she said, “If you really want safety and security, you will have to change the mindset and ensure more engagements of the two genders. You will have to make the boys and girls interact and discuss issues.”
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